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Full text of "The Old Religion by David Mamet"

The 
Old 

Religion 

David 
Mamet 



THE FREE PRESS 

New York London Toronto 
Sydney Singapore 



This book is dedicated to 
Rabbi Larry Kushner 



A crucible for silver, a furnace for gold, 
and the Lord tries hearts. 

— Proverbs 17:3 



The 
Old 
Religion 



In 1915 a young factory girl was killed in Atlanta, Georgia. Her 
name was Mary Phagan, and she worked at the National Pencil 
Factory. The factory manager was Leo Frank. He was a New York 
Jew. Frank was accused of the crime and brought to trial. 



Preparing for the trip 
to Morris's house 



The newspaper lined a bandbox. He opened the band- 
box to get a fresh shirt collar. He wondered, as he often 
did, at the appearance of the newspaper. It had been 
glued into the sides and bottom of the box, and the date 
showed April 10, 1868. But the newsprint had not yel- 
lowed. "Obviously the glue is a preservative," he thought. 

"We might think what there is in the glue to preserve 
the clarity, and, so, arrive at a new process, or, at a new 
application of an existing operation to lengthen the life 
of newsprint." He smiled. 

"But is not longevity in opposition to its very nature, 
which is temporareity? And if we had begun with newsprint 
which resisted time, would it not be an advancement if, 
by extraction of the preservative glue, the cost or diffi- 



2 DAVID MAMET 



culty of manufacture could decrease? If some man," he 
thought, "recognized one day it was not necessary for the 
print to retain clarity beyond the one day, and, so doing, 
reformed the industry . . . ? 

"Yes," he thought. "Yes. You could take it either the 
one way or the other. And either would be as astound- 
ing. 

The newsprint advertised, along the fold where the 
box's sides and bottom met, a meeting to petition Is- 
abella, the queen of Spain, for the release of Edgardo 
Mortara. 

"Restore the Child to its Rightful Parents . . . ," the 
print read. It was a sheet of the Brooklyn Eagle, and had 
been glued into the box by someone in his wife's family, 
back in those days. 

Edgardo Mortara was a Jewish child. He'd fallen ill 
and was believed near death. 

One day, in his parents' absence, his Catholic nurse 
took him from the house and had him baptized, to save 
his soul. The child was kidnapped by the state — taken 
from his parents' home. No diplomatic or religious pres- 
sure was sufficient to induce the government of Spain or 
the Catholic church to give the child back. 

Frank looked down at the clipping and thought of 
the discussions, the endless and not unenjoyable discus- 
sions, he and his fellow Jews had had about the outrage. 

The bandbox held his collars and, in a soft morocco 



THE OLD RELIGION 3 



purse, his collar studs. He fitted the collar into his clean 
shirt and stepped to the mirror to tie his tie. 

"Yes, you look nice," his wife said. 

He nodded, and they continued to prepare for the 
ritual trip to Morris's house. 



Morris tells a story about 
Southern Jews 



Morris spoke: "... you see, with the placards of the 
Klan and the announcements — do you see, they put it in 
the local paper: 'Jews and Catholics. You are not required. 
Leave now or be eliminated.' 

"Well, in Belton, Renston, that area, now, they're 
dragging people from their homes. Some priest ..." He 
coughed. 

He leaned forward and took a sip of the cordial. 

"D'you get these glasses from?" he said. 

"Aunt Claire," Frank said. 

"Gave 'em to you . . . ?" 

"Certainly did." 

He admired the small, etched glass, and turned it to 
the light, and raised it to examine the base. 



THE OLD RELIGION 5 



"Czechoslovakia," he read. He sighed and leaned 
back into the davenport, resting his left arm out along its 
high wooden frame. 

"... Czechoslovakia," he said, softly, to himself, 
content that it meant nothing, content to be the head of 
the family, to be a man, happy with his friends, relaxed 
and full of a good dinner, and to be serious in the way 
people are when the subject is arguably more personal 
than gossip but devoid of any real threat — who are en- 
tertained by those best of entertainments, which go by 
the name of serious business. 

"I don't begrudge him," Frank thought. "He is, upon 
balance, fair, and no more pompous than I would be in 
his situation — than I, in all probability, am now. 

"If we prize substance, then he, as a substantial man, 
is worthy of admiration. 

"And, by God, given time, and with a little help, I 
might accomplish as much as he." 

"The Ku Klux Klan," Morris began again. 

". . . But, finally, who does he think he is?" Frank 
thought. 

"The Ku Klux Klan. Which of us is immune?" Mor- 
ris said. 

"For all the world like bugbear stories around a 
campfire," Frank thought. 

"And don't we sit here with our eyes wide like ten- 
year-old children — thrilled to be frightened?" 

Mayra came back into the room, and behind her, 



6 DAVID MAMET 

Frank saw the colored maid, who, it was obvious, had 
just been receiving some timely instructions from her. 

Mayra stood in the doorway and looked out on her 
husband as he continued. She looked down over her fam- 
ily, so still, listening to Morris go on. 

She settled herself into the chair by the door. Slowly, 
in the rhythm of his speech, sinking down. Her husband, 
his eyes in a sweep of the assemblage, caught her eye and 
nodded, as if to a prized lieutenant. 

". . . and so Weiss . . . ," he said. 

One of the children ran through the hall on some 
errand, and her mother reached out of the parlor and 
drew her in and whispered to her. 

". . . stayed at his home. Three days. And waited the 
ax blow." 

One of the men nodded, and expelled the cigar smoke. 

". . . in all anxiety. His store. His home." 

"His savings . . . ," one cousin said. 

"Well, exactly" Morris said. "Exactly," granting the 
man's intrusion grandly. 

"His wife and family. Afraid to venture to the store. 
The store shuttered. The help ... I don't know if the 
household help came in, those days. They did not say. I 
do know they were bound to the house. The family. And 
whomever was there. 

"What fantasies," he said, as he took up the main 
theme again, "must not have formed in his mind? Of 
flight ... of opposition . . . What was he to do? I don't 



THE OLD RELIGION 7 

believe he even had a shotgun in the house. In fact, I'm 
sure he didn't." 

The men in the room nodded. 

"Of flight, then? Abandoning everything? And how 
to flee? If the Klan ruled the roads? And could they go 
cross-country? Now. What did that leave?" 

"The railroad," a young boy suggested. 

The adults looked at him. 

"No. No. That's right," Morris said. "That left the 
railroad. And they packed those few things they thought 
they could carry without attracting undue attention — as 
casual travelers might carry. And they planned to walk 
out, on Saturday evening, as if for a stroll, do you see, to 
the depot. Timing their walk to coincide with the depar- 
ture — mind you, not the arrival, but the departure — of 
the nine-eighteen to Corinth. 

"For they would not want to appear and to board the 
train, only to have the Klan board after them, and drag 
them from it. How terrible that would be — so close to 
freedom . . ." 

He looked down at the cordial glass on the table be- 
fore him. He reached forward and pushed it gently, by 
the base, so gently forward three inches. 

"They took a baby carriage," he said. "Scheming to 
save those few things it would hold. A wicker baby car- 
riage filled with the silver, this photograph or that, I 
don't know, papers . . . 

"And, at the time they set off . . ." 



8 DAVID MAMET 



"All over the town: posters. 'The Knights of the Ku 
Klux Klan vow death upon the Scourge of Mankind, the 
Catholic and the Jew. And will eliminate them from our 
Midst, and stand, like the fiery ever-turning Sword 

"Well, I think that the State Militia should have 
come," a young cousin said. "And yes, and yes, 'Who is 
the State Militia,' but it seems to me ..." 

"It seems to you what?" Morris said. "It seems to you 
what? What does it seem to you?" He smiled. 

"What happened to them?" one of the women said, 
and the group rustled and settled themselves again to- 
ward Morris. 

"Well, I'm going to tell you," he said. "They set out, 
walking down to the depot. Thinking at any moment to 
receive a bullet in the head, a rifle butt to the face, a shout 
which said, 'There are the Jews!' 

"To be dragged into an alley,* into the town square. 
And they walked on. Past the store. They glanced at it, 
'Weiss's Dry Goods.' 

"The store they had built from nothing: his father a 
peddler, a pack on his back. 

"And now Weiss. A pillar of the town. Who has a 
cause? A donation required, a . . ." 

The men nodded. Businessmen. 

"... a gift of ... a bolt of cloth. The uniforms . . ." 

"That's right," one of the cousins said. 

". . . for the hall teams. For the band. Community work, 



THE OLD RELIGION 9 



call it what you will. Who do they come to? A part of the 
town for the years, fifty years, that they had been there. 
'Weiss. Dry Goods.' And here is the town. Risen against 
them, and one shout for blood, and their bodies swinging 
in the wind. As they walked past the store. 

"And you can imagine his bitterness — to pass the 
store, knowing at any moment and inevitably it will be bro- 
ken into, plundered. Burnt, no doubt. A shell. And what 
were two generations of his family's life? 

"They heard the whistle of the train, come into the 
town. As they walked on now. 

"They walked on. They crossed the square. There 
was the Klan, down the Main Street. There was a rally, 
and they'd thrown up a small platform, and there they 
were, in the Robes of the Inquisition were up there, ha- 
ranguing the crowd. Thirty, fifty men now, in their white 
robes, and the crowd of the townspeople. 

"Well. They are committed. And they proceed to the 
train. What was that out of the side of his eye? Does 
Weiss see one of the Klansmen turn and spy him? Yes. 
No. What? 

"On they walk. Do you see the pathetic procession? 
Man and wife. And three children, and a baby carriage, in 
which is all they have salvaged of their life. 

"There is the depot. And there is the train. And 
people boarding. And there is the conductor, that's right, 
checking his watch. Looks up the line, looks back; and is 



10 DAVID MAMET 



about to wave the brakeman to pull out. As the family 
comes up, comes up to the train, hurrying now: 'Get on 
board.' Weiss has his family board — he will go last, tak- 
ing the baby carriage, and can still hear, do you see, the 
speaker and the crowd but one street over. 'Cleanse our 
Land in Blood. . . . Death to the vermin . . . Death to 
those who bring death. . . . Death to the Jews. 

"About to board the train. 'Praise God I have gotten 
my family away from this.' 

"When there is a hand on his shoulder. And he turns 
to see three of the hooded men." 

The colored girl was coming in with a new pot of 
coffee. Mayra, seated near the kitchen, put her hand out 
to stay her. 

". . . And Weiss turned to see the three men." 

'"Where are you going?' the one says. 

"Can he make his voice out? Does Weiss recognize 
him? Does he care? Does it matter at this point? Some 
townsman. A customer, certainly. At this point does it 
matter? 

'"Where are you going?' And the second man, who 
held a torch, passed the torch to the third and motions 
up at the conductor, and points up at Weiss's family, who 
are aboard the train, and motions the conductor to re- 
move them from the train. And he does. 

"The train starts to leave. Starts to pull out. The 
conductor, looking back, shakes his head and mounts the 
train. 



THE OLD RELIGION II 



"Weiss and his family standing on the empty plat- 
form. The train pulling out. 

" 'Where did you think you're going?' 

" 'Sir,' Weiss says. "Sir . . . the signs said that the 
Jews . . . the Jews were to leave the town. . . .' 

The man came forward and stood inches from him. 
'Lord, Mr. Weiss,' he said, 'not you. You're our Jew. 

The room erupted in laughter. The one cousin 
barked. Frank's wife slapped her thighs and looked at her 
sister Mayra, who was already removing her handkerchief 
and screwing up her face for tears. Frank shook his head 
and chuckled. Morris looked at him. 

"... our Jew," Morris said, and shook his head, and 
nodded to the girl in the kitchen to say, "Yes. Now." And 
she came forward with the Passover tray. 



The Seder plate 



There was the fellow with the gun — an old matchlock, 
or wheel lock, misdrawn, for what would the Jews know 
about guns: nothing but to look away. 

Nonetheless, there he was, pictured on the plate, 
around him, in Hebrew, the words Matzoh, Maror, Karpas, 
the ritual foods of the Passover seder, and, by each word, 
a small depression in the plate. And in the center, 
once again, the chap, as he thought of him, holding his 
rifle. 

"What a medieval scene," he thought. "Wouldn't one 
expect a man in that attire to hold a crossbow . . . ?" For 
the chap wore a jerkin and what seemed to be a conical 
fur hat. He was caught in a resolute, misdrawn attempt 
to depict stealth, and there, beyond him, looking back, 
was the rabbit. 



THE OLD RELIGION 13 



"Even I," Frank said to the man from New York, 
"even I, in my ignorance and sloth, know that it cannot 
be 'kosher' for a Jew to hunt." 

He pronounced the word "kosher" gingerly, as if to 
say, I don't disclaim that I have heard it, but I do not wish 
to say it freely, as to arrogate it to myself on the mere 
precedent of blood. 

I don't mean to disclaim it, but neither do I, for good 
or ill, wish to suggest a greater than accidental liaison be- 
tween myself and that tradition. 

"This is a very rare piece, I believe," the other man 
said, "and I'll explain it to you. You are most correct to 
state it is non-kosher — for we are enjoined against the 
shedding of blood other than quickly, painlessly, with re- 
spect, and by a man trained ritually and practically to en- 
sure his competence, if I may. So, you are correct. That 
hunting is not kosher." 

"Nor the hare," Morris said. 

"The hare, no," the man from New York said, "al- 
though the rabbit is." 

"What is the difference," Frank said, "between the 
rabbit and the hare?" 

The man from New York began his response, and 
Frank thought, "I hate myself. Who am I trying to im- 
press, or what accomplish, by that 'Jewish' flight of inter- 
rogation? God forgive me. No. And what do / care . . . ?" 

". . . while the hare" the man continued, "is another 
species. Beyond that I cannot say." 



14 DAVID MAMET 



"Which brings up," Morris said, "the rationality of 
the proscription." 

"Yes, it might," the other man said. "Yes. It might." 

There was a pause. 

". . . the hare," Frank said. 

"... and there was a discussion," the New York man 
said, "at one time, about various animals. The various 
animals. Why fish, for example, should be parve, or 'neu- 
tral,' if you will, while chickens should be classed as 
flesh." 

"I find this ludicrous," Frank thought. "Why do I 
pretend?" 

". . . and the Rabbis," the man said, "in the Talmud, 
discoursed on the goose, as there had been an observation, 
at one point, by travelers to some distant land, of geese, 
it was said, nesting in trees, and so they undertook to dis- 
cuss if the goose could be classed as a fruit." The man 
smiled slightly. 

"Distant from where?" Frank said. 

"Distant from where . . . ?" The man sought to con- 
nect the question to the discussion. Then he nodded. 
"Babylon. Palestine, it would be, as it is in the Talmud, 
that the travelers would have been distant from. Which is 
in the present day Mesopotamia and in that day was 
Babylon, and in that year, where would they have traveled 
to," he mused, "to see a goose in trees?" 

"I loathe this man," Frank thought. 

"I hate the whole tradition. An amusement of 



THE OLD RELIGION 15 

slaves — calls itself philosophy. They might as well have 
chosen the advert on a pack of cigarettes and studied it 
four thousand years." He looked down. "'Costliest and 
most rare of tobaccos. Custom blended, selected, and 
cured for your smoking delight — a cigarette of distinc- 
tion.' 

"How many times could we find the letter c in here?" 
he questioned himself. "And what might that reveal to us 
of the workings of the world?" 

"This idiot country," he thought. 

"Though, on the other hand, what might it mean that 
the letter c . . '.' 

". . . the rules of . . . that land from which they 
came," the New York man droned on. 

". . . and how many times, in the course of the day, 
do we jerk, if I may, convulsively, and call it 'reason'?" 
Frank thought. 

"But to give up hunting?" Morris said. "That is 
steep." 

The other man shrugged. 

"All right, then," Morris said. "Why is the fellow on 
the plate permitted?" 

The other raised one finger. Frank was filled with 
disgust. 

"Like a cartoon I saw," he thought. "Judge on the 
bench. Old Jew in the dock. Judge says, 'If you were so 
innocent, why did you not explain yourself to the arrest- 
ing officer?' Old Jew shrugs. 'I was hendcufft.'" 



16 DAVID MAMET 



" Yahknehaz," the visitor said. " Y equals (Section K), 
which adds up to the order — in Hebrew, the seder — of the 
Ritual Meal. 

"Yahknehaz. I put it to you, a German speaker, does 
it not resemble Jagd den Hase — the Hunting of the Hare? 
It does, I say. It does. 

And I say it is ingenious to translate the mnemonic 
not once but twice — don't you think? Who could forget it?" 
He turned to address the table. 

"And I assure you," he said, "having heard it once, you 
will never forget it till the day you die." He raised his 
finger. "And that was the most excellent genius of the 
Rabbis." 



Discussion of the 
Mortara case 



Life at the lake, of course, was easier. 

It was, in its own particular way, more formal than 
the life in town. There was more of what he had come to 
think of as "social intercourse," which differed com- 
pletely from the urban "visiting." 

Most nights of the week the wives would sit out on 
one another's verandas, or gather at the hotel porch. And 
Saturday night — Sunday was "Family Night," sacrosanct 
to the reunion with the Husband up from Town — Satur- 
day night and Sunday afternoons were given to the round 
of formal "Stoppings By," a round of dinners, break- 
fasts, parties, and teas offered and returned. 

He loved the smell of breakfasts. The clean reek of 



18 DAVID MAMET 



coffee, as if it went direct to his bowels. That's how it felt 
to him, an excitement. Sunday morning, rested, a day free 
of work, rising late. 

The road was still — the dirt road up from the lake. 
The townspeople were all at church, while he slept late 
and woke to the feeling of entitlement. 

What dearer sound than one's own wife moving care- 
fully, to protect one's sleep, one's late sleep— what 
greater endorsement? 

"They may say what they like, Morris," he said, "but 
the Mortrara boy, the matter of the boy is not a matter of 
state. Not," he said, stilling correction, "not that I would 
not have it so. I would. But what state, what . . ." He 
spread the country honey on his toast and thrilled to the 
sound of his own voice, holding forth. So like a man. 
"So like a man," Frank thought. "Assured — beyond as- 
sured. Didactic, yes, I'm proud to say it. And why not? At 
my own table, in front of my friends — who are guests. Yes. 
And I speak without apology. It may be truth itself, it 
may be trash, yes, though I do not think it is, but it may 
be ... it cannot be both, but . . ." His thoughts were inter- 
rupted as he came to "my due and prerogative" and was 
about to proceed toward "the greater benefits of the 
Leader, in this case, the Father, and the Family Gather- 
ing, ruled or commanded or led by a Central Figure . . ." 

"Where, then, might be the other possibility?" Morris 
said. 



THE OLD RELIGION 19 

"More toast"? his wife said. 

"Yes," Frank thought. "I have my place, and she has 
hers. Our happiness comes from the limits we impose, both 
on each other and on ourselves. Our . . ." 

Ruthie brought the platter in, and, as he did every 
week, he appreciated the old green platter and thought of 
it as "country crockery." 

"So refreshing," he thought. 

". . . if you would do it at the factory," Morris said. 

"Do what?" 

"What? Do what?" Morris said. "Do what?" And he 
looked across the table at his sister, to gather support. 

"If I would . . . Yes, yes, yes," Frank said. "Yes. Act 
in . . . well, Morris. Morris. Each of us has . . . don't we? 
Each . . . wait a moment . . ." 

"How I love these discussions," he thought. "And 
after breakfast I will have a nap. 

"Was ever a man in such a happy position as this? 
The coffee? The friends? The breeze from the lake, the 
breakfast? No. A man could live all the years allocated to 
the earth and not see a more lovely morning." 

Soon theyd hear the boats, and the sound of their 
neighbors, returning from church, the rumble of the cars, 
and the quiet walk of the horses, and the voices of 
townspeople, talking low. 

They were back, of course, on the rear veranda of the 
cabin. On the lake side — why should they not be? 



20 DAVID MAMET 



"That's where the breeze is," Frank thought. "That is 
where the breeze is. And a man who works all week can 
stand a day of simple pleasure, away from the mass, the 
trouble, and the maintenance of the administration. 
Away from the inadequate strength of the last three 
shipments of cedar . . . now you've thought of it," he 
thought. And, through it all, heard himself speaking. 

". . . government of Spain, a sovereign body. But as 
they . . . wait: Morris. Wait a moment. Morris . . ." 

He sat, brooding over the indulgence due him, and 
deprived him, in the termination of his speech. He 
waited. Morris subsided. 

"Did, I say. Did 'as they thought right.' " There was a 
momentary pause. 

"Subsequent events . . . ," he continued, and raised his 
hand to still his friend, who bore the look of one prac- 
ticed upon. "Well, if he wanted to speak, he should have 
spoken," Frank thought, and continued. 

All the while he was conscious of their position on 
the back porch, hidden from the road. 

"No, we have the right to be here," he thought. "We 
are not 'screened' from them, for this is where the porch 
was built; and how could they take umbrage that we've 
not gone to church? We are not sequestering ourselves, for, 
surely, they can smell our breakfast, and that's the end 
to it." 

"Well," Morris said, "I'm going to tell you some- 



THE OLD RELIGION 21 



thing: They took that child, and the child's gone. How do 
you deal with it? You deal with it. How you deal with it, 
that's the meaning of philosophy. Fellow says, 'Meaning 
of philosophy,' you have to make your own. Now, genera- 
tions: 'How many angels dance on the head of a pin?' 
One man comes along: 'How big is an angel?' Ah. This is 
a new philosophy. Ages go past. Aha. Aha,' so on. New 
man says, 'How big is the fin? Mm?" He paused. 
". . . hailed as a visionary." 



Thoughts about advertising. 
"Wells Fargo Never Forgets" 



'Wells Fargo Never Forgets.' "Well, that's a slogan, and 
all you need to know about that company. How could 
you forget it? And who would want to transgress them? 
To be outside the law?" 

"What does it mean to be outside the law?" Frank 
thought. "Might one not take extraordinary pleasure from 
it? What must it be to loose the constrictions of the daily 
life — to be bound only by those one chose to observe, all 
this offset by just one thing: that one was hunted. 

"If I could excise the conscience," he thought, "all that 
would be left would be the fear — no, it need not be 
fear — no, the 'fact.' The 'fact' of being hunted. Like the 
dog. 



THE OLD RELIGION 23 



"That would be my life." 

The dog had been coming to the porch of the hotel, 
nights. 

Some said it was a wolf; some said a coyote; but both 
terms signified only a wild canine, and what was the dif- 
ference, he thought, between the terms and the dog, who 
lay there dead? 

Nothing at all. 

The dog's domestication was an illusion. An illusion. 
He was as much a beast as the coyote or the wolf. There 
was nothing that he would not do — nothing he had not 
done. 

So, what did it avail to think of him as a "dog"? 

If he would come, as he came, night after night, and 
steal; if he would kill, as he had killed, the smaller ani- 
mals around the hotel; if he would stand and, cornered, 
attack, as he had done, when trapped in the barn? 

And now he lay shotgunned, dead, in the kitchen 
yard, nothing about him domestic. 

He was wild. He had lived and died wild, and the rest 
was an illusion. Where he found it comfortable, neces- 
sary, where he found it convenient, or through lack of 
choice, he had lived in a house, and took scraps and 
obeyed masters who called it love. 

When he turned from them, when he escaped, when 
he left, the world was his for the one price: to accept 
being hunted. 



24 DAVID MAMET 

"Could I have as little conscience as the dog?" he 
asked. 

"And now, you see, he traded A for B," Morris said. 

"And there you have it?" 

Morris walked through the dooryard with Frank. 
The women sat on the veranda. 

"What do they talk of?" Frank wondered. "And why 
has Morris seen fit to comment on the dog? Yes, to assert 
his superiority." 

And now the dog was dead, and Morris was saying 
that, as the dog should have known, his was a losing bat- 
tle, and that that not given in love would be redressed in 
blood. 

Was that true? That one's only choice was to obey or 
die? 

"He would have died in any case," Frank said. 

"I don't get you," Morris said. 

"Well," Frank said, "it's not deep." They watched the 
dog lifted up with a shovel. 

A large black man was called out of the kitchen. He 
came wiping his hands on a filthy apron. Morris and 
Frank walked away 

He saw the groundsman gesturing to the dog, and 
the black man bobbing his head. He was handed a large 
coal shovel. 

He scooped the dog into it. As Frank looked back, 
he saw the man with the shovel walking toward the mar- 
gin of the woods. 



THE OLD RELIGION 25 



"No. That's the wrong tool for the job," he thought, 
"if he intends to bury him." 

Morris began to speak. "Yeaauh," he said. "Abrams's 
expanding." 

"Is he?" Frank said. 

Morris nodded. "Boston. Providence. Philadelphia." 

"I hope he does well." 

"Well, if he does well we do well," Morris said. 

"That follow?" 

"I think it does. To the extent that we are willing to 
go up against him." 

"What does Jack say?" 

"Haven't talked to Jack," Morris said. "But I intend 
to. Next time I . . . " He stopped to light his cigar. He 
motioned "wait a moment," and he bent over the cigar, 
shielding it, through habit, from a wind that did not exist 
that day. 

"Y'ever notice?" he said between puffs. "Y'ever no- 
tice, cup the match such that, were it to catch on the book, 
it would flare up in your face?" He sighed. ". . . the 
matchbook. 

"And as many times as I've remarked it, over the years, 
still I hold it in the selfsame way. Lighting the seegar." 

"Well, you're human," Frank said. 

"Ain't it the truth?" 

They walked on, and Morris glanced at him, to say, 
"Now what the hell was I talking about?" 

"Jack Fine," Frank said. 



26 DAVID MAMET 



"Jack Fine. I said, 'The lifeblood of trade's competi- 
tion.' I've always thought so,' Jack said. 'That being the 
case,' I said, "come you've never gone into New York?'" 

Here Morris paused. He raised his eyebrows to show 
that the point of the story'd come. 

"'Because,' Jack said, 'I go into a place, I want to know 
I am the smartest Jew there.' " Morris shook his head and 
grinned. Frank grinned. 

"Yessir," Morris said, "lifeblood of trade." They 
walked on. 

"Things the factory?" he said. 

Frank looked to gauge the intent of the question. He 
saw nothing, and shrugged. "Up six percent, twenty- 
seven months." 

". . . they say New York?" Morris said. 

"Lloyd?" 

"Mm." 

Frank smiled. "Say very little." 

"What have they turned, thankful?" Morris said. 

The two men walked on. 

"Wells Fargo Never Forgets," Frank thought. And 
he could not forget his thought of the shovel and the 
dog. 

"Will I go to my grave," he thought, "with this up- 
permost in my mind, each moment of the day?" 

In the courtroom, Frank heard the Judge drone on. 
And his eyes rested on the carved piece of denticulation 



THE OLD RELIGION 27 



in the cornice in the corner of the room. Soft, buttery 
wood, brown and, for some reason which he could not 
plumb but for which he was thankful, restful. 

His gaze slipped, more and more now, to that point 
on the wall. And each time it did, he expected its calma- 
tive powers to Ve dissipated; and each time, upon discov- 
ery that they had not, he was grateful. But he would not 
stop thinking of the shovel and the dog. 

"It was the wrong instrument," he thought again. 
"Either to carry the dog or to dig a hole — or, still, to dis- 
member it. It was a coal shovel," he thought, "for God's 
sake. Did the man not know that?" 



At the lake. 
Morris does card tricks 



He looked so serious. 

"No," Frank thought, "I will not be taken in by it. No. 
It is all a ploy, capitalizing on my human instinct to re- 
spect the portentous. There is that in the ordering of his 
features which apes the solemn and momentous. So it is 
natural I would pay homage to it with still concentration. 

"All the same, I know that it's a ploy and, all the 
while, his hands are busy while his eyes are still." 

Frank lowered his eyes the minutest amount in, as he 
thought, a respectable counterfeit of attention or respect. 
And he saw the other man's hands were, as he had seen 
them last, folded, still, plump, one over the other, and 
both over the red deck of cards. 



THE OLD RELIGION 29 



"But of course he has moved them," Frank thought. 
"He moved them in the instant in which he said 
"Now!' — when I lifted my eyes to his. I could observe 
him now forever and what difference would it make? The 
trick has been done." 

Morris cleared his throat and Frank raised his eyes. 
He saw Morris's wife out of the corner of his eye — smil- 
ing, excited, and proud of the man holding the group's 
attention. 

Behind them, by the door to the dining room, a black 
waiter stood, a tray of drinks on his palm. Frank saw the 
attitude of both respect and non-being in the man's 
demeanor. "I am here only when and as you desire me to 
be," it said. 

And "Poor man," Frank thought. "It must grow tir- 
ing. To heft the tray, immobile on his palm, like that; 
though, perhaps, they grow used to it." 

"I ask you now," Morris said. 

"Perhaps it is just a question of balance," Frank 
thought. 

". . . to tell me the name of the card you had chosen." 

Frank looked back, behind him. 

"The three of spades," Molly said. Morris nodded. 

There were ten or twelve people on the porch, gath- 
ered before Morris, at his table. The men smoked cigars. 
The night wind took the smoke off the porch. Now and 
then the wind shifted, bringing back the scent of the 



30 DAVID MAMET 



trees and, once, the sound of paddles and high laughter 
on the lake. 

"So still . . . ," Frank thought. 

"Three of hearts. Here is the three of hearts!" Morris 
said. 

He lifted his hands from the pack and fanned the 
cards over the table. They were facedown, save the one 
card, the three of hearts, which he drew from the pack, 
displayed, delighted, to the crowd, and threw, facedown, 
on the tabletop. 

"No," Frank thought. 

Morris looked at the faces on the porch. Two of the 
men coughed. 

"Yes. What . . . what?" Morris said. 

"I . . . Nothing," Molly said. 

"What is it?" 

"My card was the three of spades," Molly said. 
"Three of spades. Not the three of hearts." 

Morris, then the rest, looked down at the solitary 
card, facedown, to the side of the spread pack. 

". . . Your card was the three of spades . . . ," Morris 
said. 

"Oh, yes," Frank thought, relieved. "Oh, yes. Now she 
will turn over the card, and it will have metamorphosed 
from the three of hearts to the three of spades. We will 
feel happy and relieved. Will we feel angry? 

"What if it is not the case, and he has truly chosen 
the wrong card? How humiliating: to spend the hours 



THE OLD RELIGION 31 



one must need in practice — practice to gain the approval 
of the crowd — and then to disappoint them. How terri- 
ble: to have one's inner soul's longings revealed — 'I burn 
to tantalize you. To manipulate you, to control and de- 
light you. To lead you in my ways and at my leisure' — 
and then to fail. For what would obscure that personal 
revelation? Nothing but success." 

He heard the crowd draw in its breath, and break out 
in laughter and exclamations. 

For, of course, the card had transposed. And Morris 
sat there, happy, confident, controlled, portraying the 
least — but a discernible — measure of humility withal. 

"Happy to please. Sorry to've taxed (if I did) your 
patience. Sorry to've manipulated you. I hope that you 
will find — as I found, for I did not act so without due 
deliberation — that the misdirection was worth the result; 
and that, finally, I have pleased." That is what he pro- 
jected, sitting there. 

Frank looked away and saw the waiter, who, similarly, 
had reconfigured himself, and whose posture now an- 
nounced that he knew the trick was concluded; that 
though he did not wish to, and would not, appropriate 
any of the group's enjoyment of the performance, he was 
quite cognizant — to the limits of the intelligence autho- 
rized to him — of its excellence. The waiter let the laugh- 
ter and the semi-ironic applause begin to wane and, like 
an actor playing the laugh, came forward with the drinks. 

The evening passed. 



32 DAVID MAMET 



Morris and Frank sat by the rail of the veranda. 

"It is not cold," Frank thought, "but it will soon be 
cold." 

There was a mist on the lake. The lights behind them 
in the hotel were dimmed. They heard the clatter, once, 
for an instant, of the last cleanings-up in the hotel 
kitchen, then stillness. 

The breeze came through in one burst, across the 
porch. Then it was gone. 

"Yeaauh," Morris said. He sucked at his teeth. 
"'Waal, Jedge,'" he said, repeating the punch line, '"if 
you was oncet a nigger on a Saady night, you'd never wan' 
to be a white man ev' again.' " 



The backyard at night 



He believed in it as if it were a religion. 

For what was it but a mass of land, itself, an aspect 
of the imagination, really — for it stretched upon a piece 
of paper between here and there, and he said, "Evidently, 
all of it must belong to the person who sees that cohe- 
sion, who sees that it lies between two oceans. And the 
person seeing that should own it, and that person is me." 

What did it mean, to own it — to possess or to be- 
long to a country? 

He often thought of his house. And he delighted in 
his philosophical disquisitions on the nature of posses- 
sion, and thought, "This is wealth. If I am unafraid to 
question my right in my home, then, surely, some merit 
should accrue to me, or, if not to me, to the act, an act of 



34 DAVID MAMET 



bravery. How Jar would I permit the inquiry to go? I do not 
know. But how many would have even dared raise the 
question?" 

He rocked in his favorite chair, on the screened 
porch, as he looked out at the lawn, where Ruthie was 
picking some sort of grass or flower. 

He'd had a mock fight with his wife: "We can never 
keep the girl out of the garden," he said; and she'd said, 
"Well, let her go." 

He'd said, "She's a house servant, and what the hell is 
she doing out there when she should be working?" — 
both happy in the banter of no consequence about a 
minor foible of a family member. 

One had to be the Chief to have the Chief's 
dilemma. 

And it felt good to him. It felt good to smoke his 
cigar, and let the breeze take it out, through the screen 
porch. "The good ones," he thought. "When you 
stopped, you could hardly tell that there'd been smok- 
ing." They were his well-made, good Havanas. And why 
not? Did he not deserve them? 

"Yes and no," he thought. 

There were poor people in the world. There were 
those in pain and oppressed. And, yes, he had worked for 
the house, and still worked twelve hours a day, in a falling 
market; and who could say, God forbid, that the factory 
would not fold, or burn, or some . . . 

"You see," he thought, "this is the point of it: There is 



THE OLD RELIGION 35 

no certainty. None at all. None. We clothe ourselves in 
rectitude to hide our shame. Our shame of our lack of 
worth. It's all chance. All of it." 

He faced the woman in the garden. 

"That grass is clean," he thought. "And it's dry, and 
I'm sure she's not staining her dress. Lord. Look at her 
fat black ass." 

He cleared his throat, and rearranged himself on the 
rocker. 

He tipped the cigar ash into the smoking stand. 

"You do not want to fidget with it, or tap it too 
often, as the ash cools the smoke — supposing always that 
you have a good cigar. But, on the other hand, why make 
a fetish of it?" 

". . . as some do," another part of this dialogue ran, a 
small, interior portion of his mind speaking up. He 
chided it, gently, but with an authority. For was it not 
speaking to assess his response? 

Could he not as easily respond, "You're damn right, 
and it's affectation"? Yes, he could, and then the inter- 
locutor would have got his instruction: "Yes. Yes. That is 
how we act, and that is the opinion we take. Of men who 
act that way." But he did not so respond. He chided that 
voice, saying, "Well, I'm sure each acts as he thinks fit"; 
and another voice, a supportive judge, so to speak, added, 
"If they paid for the cigar, what business is it of anyone in 
the world how they smoke it?" 

But, in his colloquy, he silenced that voice, too, with 



36 DAVID MAMET 



an understanding but gently dismissive nod, saying, "I 
know that you do not take my part to curry favor; and, 
in fact, I may share your distaste. But it is to me to dis- 
pense reprimands." He smiled to that voice, as if to say, 
"As if any were needed between us." He paused. "And I 
will not," he thought, "censure the other remark; I will 
not. For it is not mine to censure; but, as it may appear 
needful, only to 'correct,' which can only be done with 
kindness." 

But, saying it all, he hated the men with their too- 
long cigar ash, for it invariably ended on their vest, or on 
the rug. There was a certain masculinity to it, but, given 
the eventual untidiness, he had to see it as a discourteous 
affectation. 

And he hated the fact of the Big Cigar being identi- 
fied with The Jew. If ever there were an instance of un- 
fairness, he thought, that must be it. And were there not 
two sides to every issue? 

He saw Ruthie begin to straighten up, one palm flat 
on the ground, as she pushed herself up from her knees, 
panting. "It must be difficult to carry that weight in this 
heat," he thought, and was pleased that he found no ad- 
mixture of superiority in the thought. 

"For, after all, I did not make myself thin. God made 
me thin," he thought. And, "What is better than this 
breeze?" as the breeze wrapped her cotton dress around 
the front of her thighs. "Black Nubian columns," he 



THE OLD RELIGION 37 

thought, "rounder than worked marble. Like stones 
washed in a tide pool." 

She turned, carrying the litde flowers, dwarfed in her 
left hand, and the breeze tricked the bottom of her hem 
into a peak. 

She started up the stairs. 

"I ... I know, Mist' Frank, I know . . . ," she said, and 
smiled. 

She opened the screen door and came onto the 
porch. She walked slowly past him, toward the door to 
the kitchen. "... I know," she said. 

He felt that she felt his smile of indulgence, though 
he was not certain that it had broken through on his face. 
But he felt she knew it was there. He saw it in the quality 
or in the rhythm of her walk, in the timing of her open- 
ing of the door, in the way that she let it close. In a mo- 
ment he would hear her in there, starting supper. 



The heavy woolen jacket 



But one is apt to spend a certain portion of one's income 
on appearances — perhaps "driven" to spend. This oper- 
ation, he thought, is no different than the laborers beer, 
or round of beers, at the saloon. No different at all. We 
need to establish ourselves, rich and poor. And the poor are 
always with us, as the Christians say. Is that not a quote 
from the Bible? 

As he walked, he thought of the teaching of Christ: 
"It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the 
needle," and the struggle of the rich to understand this 
passage in a way not hurtful to themselves, he thought, 
"what a show that is." 

"Yes, well, it is said, I have heard it said," he thought, 
"that it was said there was a gate in some old city, in 
Palestine, in Jerusalem, perhaps — for it is most probably 



THE OLD RELIGION 39 



just a story, and, as such, we'd just as well set it in the 
most prominent place ... In Jerusalem, then," he thought, 
"there was a gate, or a turn, or a passage, called 'The 
Needle's Eye,' and so, and so, and so ... " 

He walked, and meditated on the folly of man. 

"Deceive anyone but yourself," he thought. 

"What is religion?" 

Then there was the allied question of the shirt. 

He wore it seldom, but thought of it often. 

It hung on a hook by the back door. A heavy woolen 
jacket-shirt, which he thought of as a "rough" or "out- 
door" garment. 

It was gray, with light-green stripes at large intervals. 

A shirt for working in the yard. 

But he did not work in the yard. That work was done 
by Tom or Red, the friends ("common-law husbands," as 
he thought of them) of Ruthie. 

He wore the shirt perhaps five times in the year, on 
the rare cool morning or evening when he'd choose to 
walk back into the yard to smoke his cigar. He'd take the 
metal chair from the group by the back door, on those 
occasions, and retreat the thirty-five yards to the live oak 
tree, and sit there and smoke, and there congratulate him- 
self on what he felt was an almost bohemian behavior. 

Such occasions were always preceded by an inner di- 
alogue in which he would adopt two basically conserva- 
tive positions and, in yet a third guise, or voice, as 
"moderator," bring them into a reasoned accord. 



40 DAVID MAMET 



"Why should I not simply walk back into the air — 
clothed, in fact, 'however — and there, unseen and unsus- 
pected, enjoy my cigar? And if I am remarked, then, what 
then? Have I not seen men ..." 

Here he nodded, in deference to imaginary listeners 
who might, absent this obeisance, interpret the coming 
phrase, "of my class," as arrogant. He paused. ". . . men 
of my class," he continued, "in similar, surely, in undress 
surpassing my adoption, or, yes, or say "affectation" of the 
lumber jacket? Have I not seen such men, and that fre- 
quently, out 'in their yards'?" 

Here the opposing voice suggested clothing designed 
for the lumber camp was best worn there. And so it 
went. 

And here, usually, the voice of inanition informed 
him that he was walking to his study to smoke, and so he 
did, in the sanguine mood. Happy to be possessed of a 
liberality sufficient to allow contemplation of the free- 
spirited art of philosophy. 

And on the rare times when he walked back to the 
live oak, that voice's companion spirit spoke, and praised 
him for conservatism grounded enough to function 
healthily and secure in spite of appearances. 

He wore the shirt seldom, but it plagued him all year 
long. 

For, in his mind, he'd promised it to Ruthie. 

He and his wife regularly assembled their cast-off 
clothes and passed them to the maid. 



THE OLD RELIGION 41 



So he'd long wanted to give the shirt to her, as he felt 
it mean to hoard an article he used so infrequently. 

But when his wife assembled the used clothes — as 
she did once or twice a year — he hesitated before adding 
his shirt to the pile. He'd argue with himself and, finally, 
consign the hated shirt; and, as invariably, return to the 
pile later that day, to retrieve it and replace it on the hook 
by the back door. 

His unspoken vow occurred to him with regularity 
sufficient to suggest, when he did think about it, that it 
was never out of his thoughts — that he, at any given time 
in his life, was involved in two simultaneous occupations: 
the matter of the moment, and his battle with self- 
loathing over his inability to honor his vow and dispose 
of the shirt. 

"It stands for all I hate in myself" he thought. 

"Another man would burn the cursed thing, and, so 
be done with it." 

So it was with the other matter of the couch. 

"We are plagued," he thought, "with possessions. 
Those who have them not yearn for them. Those who 
have them yearn, at once, for more and for their freedom 
from them. 

"But there are those," he thought, "worse than I — for 
they are not even conscious of the mechanism. They, in 
short, live like poor, driven beasts." 



The Confederate flag 



Now the breeze took the water from the garden hose as 
the boy lifted it, the breeze took it, for one brief mo- 
ment, into a roostertail in the air. Then the boy brought 
it down. What had moved him to lift the hose? "Exuber- 
ance, certainly," and, "What a miracle," Frank thought. 
"What a blessing the water was." 

The flag, however, was heavier. The breeze moved it 
hardly at all. Of what material was it? Almost certainly a 
canvas. Not new. Weathered, how many years old? He 
could not remember when they'd first put it up. Had they 
hung it every year? Stars and Bars. The reds faded to a 
sort of purple. "Well, the sun will do that," he thought. 
And he thought back to the other flags. 

"Rags, really. Batde ensigns. If" he thought, "that is 
indeed the correct style." 



THE OLD RELIGION 43 



Battle flags, carried in the Confederate Memorial 
Day celebration. 

"Old men, now. Old men. How could they not be? 
So proud. As the town was proud. And why should they 
not be?" It was good to have tradition. Who was he to say 
it was wrong? 

Yes, slavery was wrong. But the War had been fought 
over more than slavery. If, in fact, it had been fought over 
slavery at all — was it only the Jews who had that earnest 
discussion? The rest of the world seemed to ve accepted 
this received notion of History. Why should they not? 
Theyd fashioned it, and moved on. 

But the Jews, as the Jews said, the Jews would worry 
it to death, and love the sad irony of the Southern 
side. 

There were the Jews, celebrating exodus from Egypt, 
and free to use the full play of their intellect to probe the 
causes, the cures, of the Institution. 

"There was economic servitude," as Morris said, "as 
severe as bodily indenture. And the position of Southern 
merchants, in thrall to the North, unable to . . ." 

Every year — it was a family joke — he would start his 
speech, and every year he was laughed to a stop, and he 
would stop, appreciating the affection in which he was 
held. But he would shrug, to say, "However, there is some 
merit in my case, which you may see someday," and some- 
one would say, "Government intervention is damned 
meddling, unless we need them when we call it Human- 



44 DAVID MAMET 



ity," or some such, and they would play their ritual out 
every year. For it assured them that they were home. 

And was that not the point of ritual? For what was 
going to be settled at the Seder table? At any family con- 
clave? The point of worth was the liberty to discuss, and, 
beyond that, below that, the solidarity — the joy of being 
the same as everyone there, which joy was only under- 
lined by their playing at differences. 

The argument was their ritual. Others had their ob- 
servances, he thought, which defined them, which as- 
sured them, for the savagery they feared was not in the 
world, as they thought, but in their minds. And who 
could grapple with that? 

In the kitchen, behind him, were the sounds of sup- 
per being cleared away. The last sounds. 

Who could grapple with it? he thought. A factory. 
Why? Workers. Why? The Wage System. Why? Slavery, 
freedom. 

Across the way, the Confederate Flag hung in the 
heat. "It drapes down but is not defeated," he thought. 
"It hangs stiffly." 

And he thought it hung too stiffly — that the mater- 
ial, fashioned for wear, did not allow the flag to loft: as 
he phrased it to himself, to "wave like a banner." 

On his walk to work tomorrow he would see thou- 
sands of them. On the homes, in lapel pins, on cars, the 
thousand banners in the parade, certainly. And he won- 



THE OLD RELIGION 45 



dered about the business of the flags. "For any business," 
he thought, "protected by sanctimony should prosper." 
He nodded. 

"Flags . . . funerals . . ." He searched for a third ex- 
ample. 

Behind him he heard Ruthie putting the last dishes 
away, and the clink of the latch of the pantry. Now she 
was done. Now he would hear her padding to the stairs 
out back, where she would sit and catch her breath. 

Now his wife was upstairs. Sitting in bed. Reading. 
Now he should go to bed. Now he should lay his cigar 
down in the smoking stand to let it go out, and get up 
and go to bed. 

There was work to do tomorrow. The problems of 
the world would keep. And what were they, finally, but a 
diversion? We could not know them, he thought. We 
spoke of them, if we knew it, simply as entertainment, 
he thought, and sighed, and smiled with affection at his 
gentle folly. 



The new couch 



At some point it had become important to him to have a 
new couch. He had first ignored and then pretended to 
ignore his wife's hints about redecorating. 

When she raised the subject openly he had resisted 
and explained to her that the circumstances of their life 
were comfortable and correct, and, in fact, lavish if com- 
pared to the median state of man at any time, and at this 
particular time in any place that she might mention. 

As he spoke on that first occasion, he both knew and 
did not know she would eventually prevail. As he became 
more comfortable with the duality, he explained it to 
himself in this way: 

"Though she is wrong, it is fitting that there be cer- 
tain aspects of life in which she can prevail. 



THE OLD RELIGION 47 



"In most of married life she follows my command. 
Now equity and common sense — even were there no af- 
fection — suggest that I occasionally recognize her 
claims. How galling, in fact," he reflected, "to have no 
part in life in which one can prevail." 

He reminded himself, then, to be gracious, and to 
find it in himself truly to ratify her claims, rather than 
merely to appear to do so. 

"For does she not, by her lights, make these decisions 
(as she feels) for our mutual benefit? Yes," he thought. 
"Yes, she does — in no way unlike myself — in electing 
this or that improvement in favor of our mutual domes- 
tic life." 

And so he told her she could redecorate, and was 
ashamed of his chagrin when she took his capitulation as 
a matter of course, and launched into a recital of plans 
which obviously had been not only thought out but well- 
nigh implemented long since. 

" This is my task," he thought, "not to 'grant,' no, but 
to recognize that to grant is, in this, outside of my gift." 

And yet he struggled to resist the simultaneous feel- 
ings of pride in his very humility and condescension in 
the residual conviction that his wife chose to find impor- 
tant the right to legislate regarding trivia. 

"Yes. After all of it," he thought, and, "This is as it 
should be. She is just a woman." 

But his thoughts of the changes to come worked on 



48 DAVID MAMET 

him. And he sat on his leather chair, and looked at his 
couch, at the old comfortable couch where he'd lain so 
many evenings after work, which cradled him those many 
Saturday afternoons when he'd slept, his workweek 
done. 

He looked across to the couch, and he saw not the 
couch but the couch-to-be. And he found he was impa- 
tient. 

The old couch, the old room, looked to him passe. 
He found it important to have the new designs com- 
pleted and installed, but he could not determine why he 
found it so. 

"As I attempt to analyze it," he thought, "I recognize 
this (I must say) basic, and I could say, 'savage,' need to be 
accepted by the community." 

Here he made a note on a leaf of his letterhead 
notepad. 

The note read: 

Advertising must appeal, as is its essential nature, to 
the fear that one is to be excluded. It must both 
awaken and suggest how to allay this fear. 

The heading on the notepaper sheet read, "National 
Pencil Company. Atlanta, Georgia." 

The voice of the prosecutor dwelt on that word each 
time he said it. "How lovely it is" Frank thought, "that 
people can communicate so. He does not pause so much 



THE OLD RELIGION 49 



as inflect, and he does not inflect so much as signify — in a 
way which, were we to reproduce and dissect his rhythm 
and pronunciation, would be absent. For science cannot 
discover it. It is a spirit," he thought. Frank heard the 
prosecutor drone on: ". . . that it is usurpation for a 
company to descend to the South and to call itself "Na- 
tional." 

Frank smiled, in an experimental trial of the irony. 
"And that is what they're going to kill me for." 



That Saturday 



There was a heavy summer smell, and there was the ques- 
tion of the ink. 

"You'd think," he thought, "that it would get into the 
house and cause mildew, but it is just this side of that; 
and if you paid attention, you would know it. In the 
smell. That it was laden and wet, but it stopped short of 
being harmful, if you had the courage to recognize that 
you knew it. 

The humidity was not going to harm anything except 
your sense of order. And if you were required to pay for 
it, you'd pay for it later in the day, in the heat. "Well, 
now," he thought, "will that assuage your sense of fair- 
ness? For was there not a breeze in the world? Yes. There 
was, he thought, as he sat down to breakfast. 



THE OLD RELIGION 51 

And they said the ribbons in the typewriting ma- 
chines would last two or three months. But he wondered, 
as they seemed to last longer, if it was a function of the 
humidity. 

"What is ink?" he thought. "Some substance which 
maintains semi-liquidity sufficient to allow its transfer, 
and then dries into a solid state. 

"Some dye, in effect, of that description." And could 
it not be that the humidity of his city kept the ribbons 
moist, kept the ink moist, and could it not be that the 
insufficiency of the company's estimate reflected not 
the absence of ink at the end of two months but the 
desiccation of the ink and ribbon, and that moisten- 
ing . . . ? 

He nodded at Rose, as she sat. He tried to envision a 
remoistening of the typewriter ribbons. How would it 
take place? Could one wind and immerse them, and why 
was that image, he wondered, not as satisfying as the, 
granted, more elaborate scenario of unwinding the spool 
to its total length — whatever that might be?" ("What 
might that be," he thought, "a hundred yards? Hardly. 
Fifty? Twenty, more likely . . .") 

"These are the musings," he thought, "of a content 
man." 

"At twenty yards" — he smiled at the thought — 
"some might call me silly. But if the ribbons were strung 
building-to-building, in the rain — wouldn't that moisten 



52 DAVID MAMET 



them? Now, is that idiocy, or an elegant solution? Who 
can say?" he thought. "Who could say, who hadn't tried 
it? If, finally, if — if moisture was, in fact, the problem. 
And here I am, already surpassing their estimate by thirty 
percent. 

"Are these the thoughts," he wondered, "of a miser?" 
And he answered himself, "No, no. I don't think so. I 
think that it's business, and it's all reducible to that; and if 
the care, and foresight, yes, and yes, and dreaming, isn't 
business, then I do not know what is. 

"The man who invented the wheel. Think of that. 
Think of it. How many millennia of placing a free roller 
underneath a load. And people dreaming, dreaming, 'If I 
could dispense with carrying these rollers: but how?' and 
someone, probably, thought of fixing rollers underneath 
the load, to be axle and wheel at once. But the genius," he 
thought, "the genius . . . and must he not have shivered as 
he thought of it, not in triumph, but in fear. In fear: 'Can 
it work? How can it work? If it could work, would some- 
one not have invented it before?' 

"In fear, he must have had the insight, the notion, to 
abstract the roller into two 'wheels.' And must he not have 
thought: 'Why me?' 

"... Why me?" He nodded. 

"For, if he was right, then the rest of the tribe was 
wrong, and had been wrong for millennia — not to see 
the obvious. 



THE OLD RELIGION 53 



"And then," he thought, "they could not see the obvi- 
ous, and . . ." 

The double-hinged door banged open, and Ruthie 
came in with the coffeepot. 

"These are the thoughts of a happy man," he 
thought. "Have I tempted fate?" And: "Jesus Christ, this 
coffee smells good." 

"Starting to turn hot already," he thought, as he left 
the house. 

"Turn hot. Parade. Well, that's as it should be. Price 
for everything. Some mornings, in the damp, you feel it 
as a coming penance; some mornings as a reprieve." 

Already the flags were flying. Up and down his 
street. Confederate Flags. He nodded as he walked past 
them. 

"Everyone has a right," he thought. "Who is to say 
he's less misguided than his adversaries?" He thought: 
"Any of us. To believe in this or that? When, five years, 
ten years, our beliefs change that completely we wonder, 
'What can I have meant . . . ?' 

"And, of course, it's a religion. The State. Any state, 
perhaps; and a good thing, perhaps, at that. 

"For how is it different from a company? It is not. It 
is a company. A Group of Men. Organized under a set of 
Principles which, perhaps they may think — but they are 
in error — which will cover all contingencies. 

"Now: what do they do when situations arise outside 



54 DAVID MAMET 

the scope of the Precepts upon which the Concern was 
founded?" 

"Good morning, Mrs. Breen," he said. 

"Good morning, Mr. Frank. Goin to work?" 

"Yes. Off to work. Off to the office." 

"Don't miss the parade," she said. 

"Oh, no. I wouldn't miss it, I," he said. "You know, I 
see it — I can see it from my fifth-floor windows." 

"You can't. In the fact'ry?" 

"Yes, I can." He smiled. A little piece of Pear Street. 
"Yes, indeed, I can." 

"Hmm," she said, wagging her head slightly, as to say, 
"What do you know . . ." 

They stopped there for a moment, and she sighed. 
"Going to be warmish," she said. 

"Well, I should say so. I'd say it's going to be quite 
warm." 

He tipped his hat and continued down the street. 



The Coffee Corner 



The two men sat in the Coffee Corner, with their hats 
pushed back on their heads. 

'"Waal, if they don't, I will,' many would say. And I'm 
not sure I would, but I can't discount it. In the right cir- 
cumstances. An it's one thing come acrost a thing, you 
follow: see a fellow in the act, and stop him . . ." They 
nodded. 

"There in the heat, eh . . . ?" 

". . . Yeaauh," they said, and nodded. 

". . . in the heat. Or even after. Look: I can't discount 
it. A man need to see some justice done. 'Ven after. I can 
see that. Take out your pistol, bam. A man's got feeling. 
'N' I want to tell you something." He hitched his chair 
closer to the counter. 



56 DAVID MAMET 



"All the laws in the world, and all the religion, to one 
end: to try to legislate . . ." 

". . . uh huh," they said. 

"... keep these feelings in check. Well. Fine. You 
mizewell ..." He shrugged, and his hand searched the 
air for the perfect comparison, the cigarette in the hand 
like a part of it, his fingers like yellow morocco leather, 
stained by nicotine, the nails huge and cracked. "... you 
mizewell . . ." 

". . . water in a sieve," a friend said. 

He pointed his finger at the friend, to say, "You have 
hit it exactly." 

"All the laws in the world," he continued, "all the 
laws in the world, Jesus Christ himself, in the heat of a 
blood passion . . . 

"Because, boys, wait a second," he said. "Because what 
we are talking about here is Human Nature. And you tell 
me that that's not a mystery? And self-control? How 
many, you think, s in there armed? Any meetin ? Any . . ." 

The others murmured. 
. . . mm? 

"That's right," a friend said. 

". . . 'n you tell me that's not an instance?" 

". . . self-control . . ." 

". . . waal, I don't know it's stlf-control . . ." 

"What is it, then?" 

". . . self-" 



THE OLD RELIGION 57 



"... what?" 

"Waal, I'm telling you, you'd listen to me," the man 
said, as the other men at the counter waited, as at a long- 
watched and long-appreciated comedy turn. 

"I think that it is equally a desire. Mm? To be part of a 
group. Wait: not to violate . . ." 

"... that's right," the other man said. 

". . . to . . . hmm? To put the interests of the group be- 
fore himself" 

". . . before who?" 

"That man with a gun. Mm? That man, as you said, 
who's out there, who, in the interests of his group, to 
which he belongs — or, or, wait a second, to the urge not 
to be ostracized, out of the group, that's all right — 
refrains from the action, eh, which would ostracize him. 
Mm? That's self-control. Or not, as you may choose to 
put it. I don't know what it is. You finish your coffee you 
c'n tell me." 

Frank walked by the Coffee Corner, and he looked in 
at the men. 



The watch 



Could it be the desire for the watch which had doomed 
him? 

As he walked down Hazel Street he wanted to turn 
down Rutherford. 

"No," he said. "I can choose or avoid any route that 
I wish; and my detour, if one can call it that, is nothing 
more than an alternative. An alternative of no greater 
length than the original or — "More direct," his mind 
supplied. "Not more direct," he responded. "Yes. Perhaps 
more direct. Perhaps. Though I do not stipulate it, but 
add that the desirability of a route, in this case, can be 
judged according to differing criteria: the length of a 
route; its ... its . . ." 

"Well, yes," another portion of his mind said. "Yes, 
We can allow it." 



THE OLD RELIGION 59 



"Its . . ." he thought, and bowed slightly, as in thanks 
for the concession, "its beauty . . ." That was the word al- 
lowed him. He nodded. 

A cardinal fluttered in the corner of his eye. He 
turned to see it, expecting to find it gone. But, no, there 
it was, in the tree on Walnut Street. And he walked and 
found he was on Main Street and had not, after all, 
turned down Rutherford, and he was on Main Street, 
walking as he had vowed not to do, and there he was in 
front of Winford s, and there was the watch. 

"What garbage is man," he thought. 

"What a swine I am — although mischance and not 
wilfulness took me here. Forgetfulness," he thought, "or 
a preoccupation took me here. Although their existence 
could be accounted as weakness." 

But there was the watch. It sat in its purple-blue vel- 
vet box in the window. The inside lid was lined in silk, 
imprinted in gold with the letters "Breguet, Paris," and, 
beneath that, in small block letters, "For Winford s, At- 
lanta." 

It was a full hunter. A slim pocket watch in rose gold. 
The case was covered front and back with small diamond 
cross-hatchings, which, Mr. Winford had told him, were 
known as "diapering." 

"Breguet," Winford had said. "Napoleon carried a 
Breguet watch at Waterloo." He paused. "And so did 
Wellington." 

"That a fact?" Frank had said. 



60 DAVID MAMET 



On two days he had gone in, and Winford had dis- 
played the watch: the elegance of the lines, the precision 
of the movement, the repeater function, which chimed 
the hour, the quarter, and the odd minute when one 
pressed the small gold stud. 

Frank had never seen a repeater watch up close be- 
fore; and when Winford caused it to work, Frank s reac- 
tion, as he phrased it to himself, was "like a savage on 
seeing an airplane." 

The jeweler pressed the stud, and the watch, in a mu- 
sical, but by no means effete, tone chimed ten, and then, 
in a higher tone, one-two-three; and after a pause, on the 
same note, in quicker rhythm, one-two-three-four-five. 

"Ten-fifty," Winford said. And Frank felt he had to 
check to see if his mouth hung open. 

"Full hunter. Gold repeater," Winford said. "Breguet, 
Paris. Lucky to get it. Doubt if ten come into the coun- 
try this year." 

Frank, looking at the watch, felt that his whole char- 
acter was revealed. "I stand before that man," he thought, 
"unmasked as a grasping, an idolatrous swine." 

For, when the watch chimed ten-fifty, and Winford 
interpreted the notes, did not Frank extract his perfectly 
good, his in fact superb, Illinois from his vest pocket? 
Did it not read ten-fifty, and was it not likely and was he 
not old enough to know it likely that, had he purchased 
the new watch, he would find it inferior to the one he 
carried? 



THE OLD RELIGION 61 



"A man with one watch knows the time," he'd quoted 
to Winford. "A man with two watches is never sure." 

"No, I'd not heard that one before," Winford said. He 
waited an amount of time to show respect for Frank's 
right of refusal, but not so long as to indicate he thought 
the customer less than decisive. He took the watch and 
returned it to the box, and the box to the window, and 
Frank left the store. 

The second time he came, he felt fully within his 
rights. 

It was not excessive to examine at length and on more 
than one occasion such an important — not to say 
costly — object. 

For was that not the point? How could one consider 
spending three hundred dollars on a watch? 

Although it was a rarity. Although, as Winford deli- 
cately observed, it would bid fair to increase in value, al- 
though it was a gift or recompense other successful men 
awarded themselves in the form of the automobile, the 
boat, the second home, the Sporting expedition. 

Finally, "Finally," he said to himself, "finally, it was 
wrong." 

It was wrong for him to own more than one watch. 
For him to spend that money on that watch. It was 
wrong. How did he know? 

He did not know how he knew. But it was wrong. 

Could one construct and defend the opposing argu- 
ment? 



62 DAVID MAMET 



Yes. And have it prevail — with any adversary but 
oneself. For the unconquerable fact — and he knew it to 
be a fact — was it was wrong: he knew it to be wrong. 
And he shrugged — less against this self-denial of the 
watch than at this new self-knowledge: that there was a 
force in the world superior to the individual, and that 
that force regulated action in those to whom it appealed. 

He could not wish it away. 

And here he was, swine that he was, once again on the 
sidewalk outside Winford's. He saw the jeweler in the 
store, talking to a salesgirl. And the man looked up and 
nodded at him. 

"Son of a bitch," Frank thought. "Does he mean to 
assert he does not care if I buy the watch? Does he think 
I do not know his courtesy point by point is nothing other 
than the attempt to induce me to purchase it?" 

Winford came out of the store, shielding his eyes 
against the morning glare. 

"Can he mean to accost me," Frank thought, "with 
some comment either about or — the more effective (so 
he might think) — not about the watch? What other rea- 
son or what pretext might he have to come out here?" 

Winford was turning the placard in the door from 
"Open" to "Closed." 

"Going downtown, Mr. Frank?" he said. 

"Yes. Down to work. Nice morning." 

". . . Working today?" 

"Yes. Odds and ends. You're closing?" 



THE OLD RELIGION 63 

'Half-day. M'morial day. Half-day. Might as well." 

'. . . Mm?" 

'. . . No business. Not to speak of" 

'Everyone downtown, eh?" 

'I would think so." He paused. "Down the parade." 

As they stood nodding for a moment, they heard the 
faint sounds of a band, far away, and particularly of sev- 
eral horns warming up. 

". . . Yeessssss . . . ," Winford said. 

"Wealllup," Frank said. He caught himself as he 
started to reach for the watch in his vest. "No," he 
thought. He hoped that Winford had not seen what 
could be interpreted as a gesture on his part to open di- 
alogue about a watch. But Winford was already turned 
away, and speaking to the shopgirl, who passed between 
him and the half-closed door. 

'"Bye, Mr. Winford." 

"Good day, Sal," he said. 

"Yes," Winford said. "You have a good day, Mr. 
Frank." 

Frank nodded and walked on. He heard the sound of 
the man stepping back into his shop, and the sound of 
the heavy shade being drawn down. 

"That's good," Frank thought. "That's needful to 
keep the sun off the carpet. Bleach it out quick as you 
please." He walked on. 

"What a fool I am," he thought. 



The factory 



The fan fluttered the bookmark off his desk. He 
watched the bookmark, flat, climbing, and falling, as the 
fan swiveled to the other corner of the room. 

As it returned, the bookmark fluttered again, and 
rose, as if to fly. Then it fell back. 

Rogerson's Stationery. 231 Main, Atlanta. Tele- 
phone: Maple 231. 

Everything for your Office Needs. 

And then the fan came back again. 

"What would it take," Frank thought, "to flip it 
over? What's printed on the reverse? I should know it. It 
lists, as I remember," he thought, "various services, vari- 
ous goods, which they provide. Quite handy. Simple 
but true. One uses a bookmark. If that bookmark adver- 



THE OLD RELIGION 65 



tises a concern, we think of it each time we see the book- 
mark. 

"Each time," he thought, "the fan returns in much 
the same way — making the allowance for the minute but 
inevitable wear inside the machine; making allowance, 
again, for the small but, I am sure, measurable shift of 
the fan along the desk — although it does seem fixed. 
Though the foam padding on its base no doubt reduces 
to near nil its motion. Even so," he thought, "even so. 
Even so. If I left for a period of months, on my return 
would I not see the fan had shifted, slightly? If I had 
marked its position out, on my departure, would I not 
see, upon my return, that change? And if I could not mea- 
sure it, would not an absence of years . . ." He cast his 
mind ahead, to a return to his office in decades, in cen- 
turies, in aeons, until a time when he would not be dis- 
appointed to find the fan yet unmoved. 

"For it must move," he thought. 

"And if it moves, yes, even after the passage of cen- 
turies, if the passage of time shows it to have moved, then 
it must have been in motion all the time. For a measur- 
able jump is nothing save the aggregate of these shifts we 
are incompetent to perceive. 

"And if the fan moves, then the bookmark must 
move. As I watch it, it does not move; it flutters and falls 
in what seems to me to be the same space. And, of 
course" — he shook his head sadly — "the situation will 



66 DAVID MAMET 

not and cannot endure as a laboratory experiment." He 
shook his head and took a cigar from his humidor and lit 
it briskly, looking down at the bookmark, as at a recalci- 
trant and willful specimen of organism. 

"For change is inevitable," he thought. 

"This office cannot endure. Civilizations themselves are 
found, buried under aeons of dust — though I do not 
conceive how sufficient time could pass, even over a 
length of time, granted, which I must find unimaginable, 
to obscure a fifteen-story building . . ." 

He consigned this thought — the question of the ver- 
ity of the proposition that complete civilizations could 
be buried in dust — to that quality of things which both 
were and were not true. 

"How can we hope to know," he thought, "if these 
things occur? If, in the very nature of the thing, we can- 
not live to see their outcome? 

"Nor" he thought, rising forcefully to what he felt 
was clearly the true burden of the argument, "nor can we 
control all the variables. 

"Not only can we not suppose to live for that 
amount of time, but I am impotent even to control the 
entrance and egress to and from my office. Even should 
I say, 'Miss Scholz, I wish no one to enter — even to clean — 
for some time.'" He nodded, meaning: "a reasonable re- 
quest." 

" '. . . Neither to disconnect the fan. I wish it to 

, „ 
run. 



THE OLD RELIGION 67 

He smiled ruefully. 

"Is there not, as we know, always that reason, either 
ignorant, good-, or ill-willed, to 'interpret' my instruc- 
tions?" 

The bookmark skittered across the desk. He looked 
for the cause, and found it in the snap of the shade — in 
the one burst of breeze through the window. 

"No, no, all things must end," he thought. He took 
the bookmark and placed it at the open page in the 
ledger — the left-hand entry completed. Date: Saturday, 
April 24, 19 15. He dipped his pen and added the date of 
the next business day, Monday, April 26, at the top of 
the right-hand page. He blotted it and closed the ledger. 
He pushed it to one side of the desk, then brought it 
back and opened it again, and turned the bookmark to 
read: "Printing and binding, typist services, paper, ink, 
full ledger and bookkeeping services . . ." 

He nodded and replaced the bookmark, and closed 
the book. 

The shade snapped again. "Starched sound," he 
thought. "Not a thing in the world wrong with that." 

He walked to the window and looked down. The 
heat smelled, he thought, clean, from the fifth floor. 

"'S hot to walk up, but clean at this height," he 
thought. 



The paper clip 



"But I could throw the paper clip away," he thought. Why 
should I hesitate to save it? And is this a function of ad- 
vertising; and, if so, of what is advertising a function? 

"For in what way is the paper clip on the letter I've 
received different from those in the box? Now," he 
thought, "now: if I were the sort of man, or, barring and 
not going to that length, if I possessed," he thought, "the 
habit" — he grinned — "of keeping the paper clips in the 
box in which they arrived — and why should I not, as it's 
an attractive box (and, finally, the question is one of util- 
ity, which is to say, a man's self-understanding of the 
world) — 

"Many would keep them in the box in which they 
came; and it is, arguably, defensibly (as if I required a de- 



THE OLD RELIGION 69 



fense) more prudent to do so. But, on the other hand, the 
box, over time, will wear down through my opening and 
closing it. And I assert — as if there were need of an as- 
sertion, and as if mere preference or habit (as I said be- 
fore) — absent a conscious preference — did not suffice — 

"If I kept, as I say, the paper clips in the cardboard 
box, would it not, arguably, conduce more toward the 
waste of those clips I receive on the mail I receive? 

"Would it not, perhaps minimally but nevertheless, 
conduce to their waste, as one would then be less inclined 
to remove and to put them into a box full of — well, get 
on with it [he thought] — those which they did not 
match?" 

And here he relaxed; his inchoate, unacknowledged 
thought: "There, I've said it." 

"How far we come from ourselves," he thought. 

"In the purchase of a receptacle for the clips I supply 
the impetus for their reuse. I decrease waste. I increase 
the beauty of my desk — but in truth, in all truth and fi- 
nally, I do it, all of it, because I want to, and for no rea- 
son other or apart from that. And I may say 'it suits me,' 
or, 'it suits my sense of fitness', or, 'I find it pleasant,' or I 
may retreat one step and refer to the utility — for which I 
care not at all; not at all; not one jot — of the box. 

"For, yes, small habits are the foundations of large; 
and, yes, in a business with small margin the least savings 
not only aggregate but . . . but, one may say, the least 



70 DAVID MAMET 



savings are the only savings. What is there but the 'least 
savings'? 

"How often do we move house, purchase new ma- 
chinery, or strike new contracts with our suppliers or 
with our help? 

"No. No. Those things which we call 'small' and 
those which we call 'large' are, if we — " 

Here he was interrupted, as the girl came in. 

She showed him her time card, and he took the black 
box out and paid her, and she went away. 

"Now," he thought, "I have bent the paper clip into a 
shape. I did it semi-consciously, because, I assume, the 
action itself was pleasing. And, having begun, I contin- 
ued. 

"Now it is useless. I have fashioned it into nothing 
at all." 

"You went," the prosecutor said. 

"You went," he said, "you went down to the base- 
ment. Following the girl, you called to her to turn, on some 
excuse — no doubt having to do with her pay. For she had 
rebuffed, you — had she not? She had rebuffed you — how 
many times? And she had learned to shun you. And yet 
you called out, and she turned. And you pushed her 
down the stairs." He paused. "And ravaged her." He 
paused again, and shook his head, slowly. He cleared his 
throat. "And ravaged her. And beat her. And you took 
her life." 

Frank looked up at the corner of the room. 



The power of advertising 



He sat at his desk and looked down at the bag. 

"Now, that," he thought, "is good advertising. 

"You see that and you remember it. You don't forget 
something like that . . . the look of it, nor the message of 
it. For it is" — he thought of the word and wondered if 
it, in fact, existed, and, in the spirit of the object which 
he examined, elected boldly to employ it whether or no. 

"It is proclamative," he thought. "Proclamatory. Un- 
abashed, and I like it like that." 

On the desk was an old bank bag of heavy burlap. 
Ten by fifteen inches, the corners reinforced with coarse, 
heavy leather. 

It closed with a drawstring sewn through the short 
end, and the drawstring ends drawn through a toggle the 
size of a poker chip. When the bag filled, the toggle 



72 DAVID MAMET 



would be pushed up against the bag, the string would be 
knotted tight up against it, and the knot sealed with wax. 
The toggle was of ocher gutta-percha. Pressed into it was 
the image of a hanged man and the motto "Wells Fargo 
Never Forgets." 

"I would believe it," he thought. "I would believe it; 
and, were I of a criminal bent, I would choose to exercise 
it upon some other concern. That is the power of adver- 
tising. To induce or persuade to forgo the process of 
deliberation and suggest there is a higher method of 
arriving at a solution — a more immediate and a better 
method. That is the power of advertising." 



The end of the day 



And now his day was done. And it was quiet. The parade 
had ended, and he was alone. 

It occurred to him that, in the office, on those days 
when he was alone, when he did his correspondence him- 
self, he would always tear, from the sheet, the exact num- 
ber of stamps he required. 

Alone, on a Sunday, or on a Saturday afternoon, hav- 
ing completed his letters, having addressed them and 
sealed the envelopes, he would turn to the drawer and re- 
move the buff folder which held the sheets of stamps. 
He would tear a crenellated block of stamps from the 
sheet — up and across, up and across — and when he 
turned his attention to paste them on the mail, whether 
hed done five or ten or forty letters, he would find he had 
torn off that exact number of stamps. 



74 DAVID MAMET 



It pleased him. And then he would denigrate both his 
achievement and his pleasure, thinking, "This is not, as I 
would enjoy it, a sign of 'election,' no; but merely the log- 
ical expression of a skill practiced so many times as to've 
become automatic. 

"It would be remarkable," he thought, "if, on the 
other hand, I were not able, unconsciously, to approxi- 
mate the number of stamps. 

"Yes, yes. Yes, but," a small voice said, "you've not ap- 
proximated it. You have hit it exactly. As you do each 
time you perform the task." It was this thought that 
nagged him, each time he approached the moment in the 
day when he would take out the buff folder. 

"I know I can do it," he thought, "if and as long as I 
am 'unconscious' of it. And I know I can do it even con- 
scious of the process; but I do not know if, conscious of 
the process and conscious of my pleasure — in that way 
which only can be vanity, which only can be idolatry (for 
have I not said that I do not 'approximate' but exactly ful- 
fil the correct number? do I not discount my ability as 
quite normal and, at the same time, reserve the right to 
feel it ... to feel it . . ." Here a small descant in his mind 
added the words with which he was loath to comfort 
himself: "a sign of election". . .) "I do not know if in that 
case I can do it." 

Sometimes he would will the number of stamps not 
to correspond with the number of envelopes. Infre- 
quently this would occur. 



THE OLD RELIGION 75 



Then again, he would berate himself for the pleasure 
he felt. 

"As if," he thought, "I now reward myself for con- 
triving not merely achievement but randomness." 

Finally, the meaning of the ceremony, he thought, 
was this: It came at the end of a perfect time. 

After a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday alone, or vir- 
tually alone, inside his office, in the factory — able to 
catch up on the elusive ends of the business, able to put 
his house in order. Somewhat at his leisure. Like a chef, 
he thought, perhaps: after the banquet. Ordering his 
kitchen. 

He cherished his time alone in the office. He felt it 
was a reward, a Sabbath, even though he was at work. 

He felt a sort of pleasant omnipotence in doing his 
own correspondence. In it he found leisure to contem- 
plate and power to express. 

In it he stemmed the torrent of business and diverted 
it and made it run to a purpose and to his pace. And it 
all ran though him. 

And if he chose to rest, to look out of his window, 
to smoke a cigar, to lie down on the couch and smoke a 
cigar into the heat, his coat on a hanger in the press . . . 

If he rested the back of his shoes, above the heels, on 
the arm of the couch, his head low, the ashtray next to 
him, close by his left hand, down on the rug, his mind 
drifting to thoughts of that girl, of any girl, of girls like 
those in the mural in the club: high breasts, small boyish 



76 DAVID MAMET 

hips, no waist which could not be encompassed by his 
hands . . . And once he woke with a start, in a fantasy of 
fire, his back wet with the sweat of a too-deep summer 
nap. 

Well, then, the thing for that, as he well knew, the 
universal tonic, was iced coffee. And thank God for 
someone to run for it. 

What could be better than iced coffee, with just the 
merest drop of cream? And how he pitied those "un- 
weaned," as he thought of it, who took it one part coffee 
to two parts milk. 

Iced coffee. Just a drop of cream. No sugar, thank 
you, to exacerbate the heat of the day,* a wet towel to 
wipe his neck, and then a dry one. The handkerchief 
from the side pocket folded in under the shirt collar. 

Then the coffee would come, and then he would 
have a cigarette, back at his desk, his correspondence al- 
most done. 

It was a reward to order it into the stacks, the one of 
envelopes, the other of letters, then to reduce the two to 
one. 

One stack of correspondence, waiting for the stamps. 

And then the coda of the stamps. For the brief, anx- 
ious, but enjoyable byplay was just a leave-taking, was it 
not? Yes, he thought, it was. After which he would have 
to go home. 



The trial 



He had heard the Yiddish curse "May you be involved in 
a lawsuit when you're right." And now he understood it. 

He saw that the wrong side could and would allege 
anything, unbounded by the laws of probability or rea- 
son, while the legitimately injured side, the wrongly ac- 
cused, could only allege the undramatic fact of its injury 
or innocence. The contest, the trial, was, finally, an enter- 
tainment, or a trial-by-entertainment, and that he, as the 
accused, no more enjoyed the presumption of innocence 
than had any unpopular man at any time. 

The trial, in his case, was an inversion of the for- 
mula: he was, more than assumed, more than adjudged 
(denied the possibility of error carried by that form), he 
was known to be guilty. He was guilty, and the trial existed 



78 DAVID MAMET 



to prolong his entertaining punishment, and to ratify 
that entertainment under another name. 

The Puritan Ethic led to the American hypocrisy of 
disavowing the need of pleasure. So pleasurable acts were 
called by the name of Service to Some Higher Good, 
their pleasurable nature denied, and that denial defended 
to the last — the gauge of a public act's pleasurable com- 
ponent, in fact, could be said to be the extent to which its 
performance was decried as onerous. 

In 1854 a Jewish child in Bologna fell ill. His 
Catholic nurse, concerned for his immortal soul, secretly 
baptized him. 

The nurse confessed to her priest, and the Catholic 
hierarchy heard of the baptism. The boy recovered, but 
the Bishopric of Bologna, enraged that a now Christian 
child was being raised by Jews, had the boy kidnapped 
and hidden away. 

No pressure from the family, from friends, from the 
world Jewish community, from foreign heads of state, 
could cause the Church to produce the boy. 

Even to assert the family's "right" was to give cre- 
dence to an opposing view. But if there were not an op- 
posing view, the kidnapping would have been stripped of 
its value as entertainment and stood simply as an obscene 
depredation. 

And now he knew the meaning of the curse. 



Memory 



The whir of the fan when the girl had stood there be- 
came confused with other memory. 

The Rabbi had said that as one studies the Torah, as 
one reads the same portions at the same times of the 
year, year after year, one sees in them a change; but, as 
they do not change, it must be we who change. 

But each time he thought of the Saturday he thought 
of the girl, and it was always the same — the whir of the 
fan blowing the dress as she stood there and asked for her 
money. 

It blew the dress and, with it, an odor of uncleanli- 
ness. 

And was the smell magnified by time? 

For, at the time, he'd thought how he'd be hard- 



80 DAVID MAMET 



pressed to have sex with her, as she smelled unclean. That 
was the factor, then, perhaps, which buried the memory; 
for, when they'd come and asked him "Do you know this 
girl?" he said that he did not. 

And when they said, "She works on the line," he had 
not. 

"There are so many girls here," he said. 

"Waal, this one is exceptionally pretty." 

"Is she?" he said; and shrugged. Not to say, "I am be- 
yond that," but, he felt at the time, noncommittally; not 
to say, "You find her so. Perhaps I, being different from 
you, may not." No. 

And not at all servile, no. Not saying, "You know 
that I cannot notice your young women," but, he 
thought, as he looked back, measured, correct, circum- 
spect, not unmindful that it was a — as he put it to him- 
self — "difficult subject," but with a certain dignity, he 
thought — rightly asserting his right not to be interested. 
He'd shrugged. 

"She was quite pretty," the policeman had said — as if 
to assert, therefore, what, he thought: that any man 
would rape and kill her? 

No. He had shrugged. And he had not remembered 
her. 

Why had he been disgusted at her smell? Why had 
he, in fact, noticed her? For she was not that pretty. 

"Their notions of beauty," he thought, "are cheap. 
How could they not be? (To forgive them.)" 



THE OLD RELIGION 81 



But they'd seen it, he realized later. They'd seen it, in 
fact, before he had. In that shrug. He had not consciously 
remembered her, but they had read intuited processes 
hidden from his very consciousness. Could that be? 

Yes. He'd remembered her. Yes. Later. And he'd told 
them all. Everything except the smell. 

Except her smell. For he knew, that would be to in- 
vite them to hang him. 

Her dress looked so limp, so greasy, blown by the 
fan. 

The yellow ribbon tied to the fan fluttered. It was 
cleaner than her lank blue dress; and why the hell was she 
looking at him? He'd paid her. Why did she hesitate? 
What was it to him that she did? And was he responsible 
for every girl in the plant? 

They'd said he had a reputation as a lecher. One girl 
and then another had reported overtures he'd made. 
Events which never happened in the world. But they were 
made so real. 

"Their stories are so real," he thought. "And they 
would die the death before they would disclaim them. I 
know they would. They would go to the rack before they 
would recant." 

"You, you the Flower of Chivalry. You who've come 
forth Risking All," the prosecutor had said. Frank 
snorted, shaking his head at the memory. 

What was it they'd risked, who had gained sympathy 
and notoriety by their lies? 



82 DAVID MAMET 



"He came up to me one Saady, and we were going 
out, by the second floor, and he ast me to stay. So my 
girlfriends went down, and I thought maybe he wannit to 
tell me he was going to move me up the line, 'cause I been 
working there the sixteen months, an' they said after 
twelve months there if you was doin' good they'd move 
you. But nobody come to me. An' I don't know why, 
'cause I'm doin a good job. So I thought he was goin to 
say that they were movin' me, when he ast me to stay." 

And here she'd put her head down. 

Then the Judge, with more concern than Frank had 
ever heard in a man's voice, as if the whole of the unsure 
advance over savagery were concentrated in those words, 
said, "Please continue," then he sighed once and, again, 
said, "... please." 

She'd raised her head. Brave, quiet, noble — who 
would not be struck by her courage, he wondered, except 
the man who was being murdered by her lie. 

"Am I going mad?" Frank thought, remembering. 
"Well, no. Well, no. It's better. I am better. When I sat 
there though . . ." And, at the thought, he was, once 
again, in that courtroom; as he went back every day. As in 
a fever dream. 

He was once again in that courtroom, and sur- 
rounded by his enemies, his mind destroying him as he 
sat there. 

"Not that they're lying," he'd thought, "and not that 



THE OLD RELIGION 83 



I'm going to die, but that no one will ever know. No one 
will ever know. No one will ever know," he'd thought. As 
they'd applauded her. As she stepped down, and the 
judge cried for silence, and the bailiff cried for silence, 
but the courtroom knew they did not mean it. 

"They are linked by the unspoken bond. Even in 
this," he thought. "Even in this so-small ritual, where 
each knows that the other knows, and they are delighted 
by their part in the play. Delighted by that unanimity. 

"The poor fucking swine." 

He heard the roaring in his ears, in the courtroom. 
The timbre changed, as the cheering spectators tried to 
follow the girl, Alice, the factory girl, as she walked out 
of the court; and then the crowds out in the corridor 
began to cheer her, then the crowds on the street. And he 
could picture her face, her mask of controlled emotion, 
her humility, her performance of unassuming virtue, of 
simple honor, unworthy of their accolade but accepting 
it, in understanding that it was awarded her not for her- 
self but as a representative of Southern Womanhood. 

"Yes. As that," she said, in her step, in her averted 
gaze, in her demeanor. "As that, yes, I will accept it." 

And he could not rise from his seat and kill her — 
that was the injustice — who'd killed him. Who'd walked 
him that much closer to his death through her perjury. 
He could not burst down the aisle, duck under the arms 
of the sheriffs, and move through the crowd in the halls. 



84 DAVID MAMET 

Perhaps he could, scurrying like a rat, so quick as to es- 
cape their notice, down the corridors, down the stairs, on 
to the street, where he would find the slut surrounded — 
wait, but wait, then he'd be free: turning the other way, he 
could run to the wharves, onto a ship, or out into the 
country. . . . 

A runaway slave's life beckoned to him. He'd sleep in 
the lofts of barns, and eat — whatever was it that he'd eat? 
Well, he'd discover it, as he lived. As he lived that life he 
would discover how to live it. He was small and he was 
quick and light, and now those attributes would work to 
his advantage. 

He didn't need much. He needed so little, really. That 
was his secret. That was his strength. 



Waiting for his attorney 



And there, of course, was the fear of what "they" would 
say. 

"They" being the Jews more than the Christians; for 
the Christians would say anything in any case; and, as 
much as one might care for their opinion, there was 
nothing one could do to influence it. 

"They look at us," he thought, "like we think about 
the Etruscans: a strange people about whom we know 
nothing." 

"The brand of religion you practice" — he framed 
his pronouncement in his mind — "can only be called 
furtive. 

"You are backstreet Jews." 

He saw, in his mind, their reaction — the reaction of 



86 DAVID MAMET 

his fellow Jews, as he preached to them — mild and won- 
dering, waiting, as if there were to be a predicate; "you 
are backstreet Jews," and as they found there was none, 
they looked away, catching one another's eyes to com- 
ment, as on an announcement that fire was hot. 

"Furtive Jews." 

"And in Leviticus it threatens desolation to the land 
if the Jews do not follow their commandments. And it 
says that in that desolation the land will enjoy those 
Sabbaths that the arrogant denied it. Could that not be 
applied," he thought, " — as I'm sure it was applied, 
and could say if I knew the Talmud, if I knew the Com- 
mentators — to the weekly Sabbath? He Who Does Not 
Keep the Sabbath being brought low and, so, forced to 
rest?" 

He hated the set of his face when he had had and was 
conscious of having had what he felt was a profound 
thought. 

For his face relaxed and his eyes looked down and 
aside, and when he felt his face so conform when he was 
conscious that he had been taken, for a moment, away 
from himself, he was pleased. 

He felt his face, in this attitude, betrayed his new ap- 
proach to wisdom, and he suspected that it made him 
handsome. Momentarily handsome, and he hated him- 
self for the suspicion and for his enjoyment of it. 

"Who am I to approach wisdom, and how can it be 



THE OLD RELIGION 87 



wisdom if it is, on the instant, perverted into vanity. 
How weak I am. How sickeningly weak I am. 

"Even, as I do, even to feel superior to the . . ." He 
wagged his head from one side to the other, thinking, 
"the relatives." ". . . Who am I to feel this superiority?" 

"Now: study," he thought. "As they say, 'Who rises re- 
freshed from his prayers, his prayers have been answered.' 
I wished for a Breguet watch. In a gold case. With my ini- 
tials worked on the case. And I spoke of it. And my wife 
bought it for me. The happiness of my possession was 
marred by the thought that I had angled for it. For it was 
not a surprise, rather an anticipated fulfillment or disap- 
pointment, so how could I look to it without feelings of 
either greed or anger? I contrived it. I suffered for it. Did 
the watch keep better time than the Illinois? Or than the 
dollar Ingersoll? Yes. And then so what? For whenever I 
looked at it, what could I think, save, 'This is the watch I 
pestered a woman for? 

'Of such, and of such quality,' I would look at it and 
think, 'that it never can decay. This is the watch I will 
have till I die. This is, in effect, my watch, and I pushed for 
it and I achieved it and now it is mine.' 

"And now it is gone. They might have told me not to 
wear it to the jail. My wife might have had it. She might 
have had it now, and enclosed it in a glass bell on a stand. 
On an easel. Or hanging, yes . . ." He congratulated him- 
self for not shrinking from the thought. "All right, the 



DAVID MAMET 



word is gallows,' and a watch, like anything else, can be 
suspended. And why, in the name of Christ, should I 
have worn it at the trial? And why have glanced at it, those 
how many times a day? For what? 

"And yet. And yet. And, God knows, yet I could not 
help myself- — as if there were going to be an end of it. 
When there was never an end of it And yet I wore that 
watch. As if the chain were armor. 

"And I wore it on the Sabbath. And I worked on the 
Sabbath, and I broke the Sabbath. What does it excuse 
me that thousands also did, that my relatives did, or that 
we never kept the Sabbath. Since our family — " 

He looked up at the sound of the wooden door 
down the corridor, the old green door to the guards sta- 
tion, as it opened. 

He nodded. Out there were the stove and the 
coffeepot and the deal table. 

And the room was clean and pleasant. 

He wondered if the guards knew how pleasant it was. 

There was an odor to it. There was a smell of coffee, 
and he imagined he could almost smell the leather of the 
new briefcase — and hear it squeak — as his lawyer came 
down the corridor. 



The prosecutor 



The prosecutor rose to his feet. He lowered his head, and 
his cheeks moved for a moment, as if he were sucking 
something out of his teeth. He turned to the jury: 

"Let us expatiate upon the properties," he said, "of 
the Black Race. And let us begin with the words of 
Scripture. For do we not find it written in Leviticus that 
if thy servant love thee, thou shall put an awl through his 
ear, binding him to the door. And bind him, as it were, to 
your house for life? 

"And I ask you: Why would one submit to that? 

"And I tell you the answer you know, which is that it 
is better than the alternative. Which, to the nigro mind, 
is not to be conceived. 

"To the mind of one bred, nay, born to be a slave, the 



90 DAVID MAMET 



alternative is not to be conceived. And you know it as 
well as me. 

". . . to venture into the world — a foreign world — 
unequipped, scorned, no, not for what one is. but for the 
actions one has taken. 

"I say, further, not for the actions presumption, but for 
its inevitable discohesion: resulting in misery for black and 
white alike, but — and as you hear me I know you will 
nod with me and sorrow with me — infinitely more op- 
pressive to the black. 

"To leave his state? To bear the just wrath of a city 
disordered — through caprice? Why? Who would desire 
to do that? 

"And, again, we know it's said if every man would act 
in his best interest this would be paradise on earth. 

"And we can, yes, envision nigros who would, 
through folly, through, as I have said, caprice, would 'quit 
their masters house.' 

"We have experienced it. And what is the in- 
evitable . . ." 

"Why can I not cease worrying about the factory?" 
Frank thought. "How strange I am. No, I am a vile man. 
Incapable of concentrating. Mr. Fowler goes on hours at 
a stretch, and here I am, brooding over the price of cedar 
blanks. Price of cedar be damned. I will think of some- 
thing else. I will think of the Brooklyn Zoologic Gar- 
dens, and the behavior of the apes. And I will think how 



THE OLD RELIGION 91 



no one can say anything novel about them. ..." His face 
brightened. "Except that!" he thought. "And Morris said 
no one could say a thing illuminating or novel about the 
apes, and here I have." 

"... and look at him," he heard the prosecutor say, and 
he turned his head to see the object being indicated, and 
he saw the whole courtroom staring at him, and he felt 
the grin on his face, and knew that Fowler s next sentence 
would be an indictment of that grin. 

"... while we sit here, gentlemen . . ." He saw the ju- 
rors nodding. ". . . and he . . . this man," the prosecutor 
said, "who took that girl, a working girl, a Southern girl, 
who wanted nothing more nor better than to earn her 
bread, and serve her family; who took her, and debauched 
her, and killed her, and hid the evidence of the crime; who 
had the gall ... to blame a nigro, yes, a nigro, mark you, 
also entrusted to his care; who, by his very presence, and I 
use the word, gentlemen, by his presence as a guest in our 
state, and our region, might have, in humility, might have 
deemed himself held to a higher . . ." 

"No, but he is good at it," Frank thought. "Who could 
deny him that?" 

Fowler droned on, and Frank endeavored to compose 
his face. "To look away is to acknowledge guilt; to look 
at them would arouse their anger; to stare ahead might 
seem to acquiesce in the punishment." 

"... Yes, you may well be confused," he heard the 



92 DAVID MAMET 

prosecutor say. "Indeed you may. In what may be the first 
display of human behavior we have seen from you, since 
the inception of . . ." 

"The apes. The factory, the cedar blanks, Aunt 
Bess . . ." 

The room stank of sweat and tobacco. The air was 
still as stone. The prosecutors word fell heavily, one by 
one. Frank sat like an animal. 

"If he were innocent, he would rise up and kill the 
fellow," one of the reporters thought. "A man would. I 
would." 



Jim 



And, one step and then the next. Frank had sat in the 
court, trusting, as all his family trusted, in some plan or 
expertise, some strategy or talent, which would, at the 
end, reveal the prosecution for the monstrous savage lie 
it was. 

But day after day, they argued over the moment that 
he'd left the house, the identity of the Boy on the Bicycle, 
the time he had seen Mrs. Breen, and what he had said to 
her about the parade. 

And Frank sat there, thinking, "Yes. This is bad. It's 
pointless. In each moment the central fact of the case is 
ignored, the jury is left gazing at me as at a monster. But 
I must sit here and let justice take its course. For there is 
a progression, a ritual torment, which, for some reason, it 



94 DAVID MAMET 



has pleased God to spare me until this point. And if it is 
my lot to endure the trial, I will do so — as others who 
were unjustly accused have done before me. I am no bet- 
ter than they. And if it is an initiation — if I can think of 
it as such — to discover my Manhood, then I will en- 
deavor to accept it as such." 

Here his thoughts would resolve themselves into the 
theme of "Americanism." He would seek and find com- 
fort in his community with both the Judge and the ac- 
cusers, all connected in the name of Americanism. In the 
unavoidably impure attempt to find the truth through 
formal means. 

"For if I cease to think thus, then I will go mad," he 
thought. 

And he persevered, day after day. Striving, with all his 
will, not to look at his watch. 

While the prosecutor pointed to him, saying, "There 
he sits, the monster. Look at him: impassive. No grief. No 
feeling. Not a shade of either remorse or shame upon his 
face. Barely cognizant of the tragedy he has wrought." 

And Frank would turn to face the jury, and see them 
nodding, unconsciously, in agreement. Consumed in this 
"thing," as he phrased it to himself- — this fervor of recti- 
tude. 

They looked at him — increasingly, as the trial 
progressed — with revulsion; and, worse, with self- 
congratulation for their ability to put their revulsion 
aside. 



THE OLD RELIGION 95 



They were murdering him. 

And how they loved Jim and his testimony. 

"Nawsuh, I nevah . . ." 

"Did you write that note . . . ?" 

"Naw suh. 'F I could write, I wun't be workin' down 
the fact ry, you know. Temporary, though I'm glad to . . ." 

Here he looked and saw, as he knew he would, the 
jury nodding in support of Jim's portrayal of the Happy 
Slave; and, at this particular point, in anticipation, then 
in approbation, of his ritual injection of submission. 

". . . so glad to have the job . . ." 

"Yes, Jim," they thought, "and this is how a society 
runs. When each is grateful for his place, and acts ac- 
cordingly. Will the Strong not nurture the Weak? The 
White not lead the Black . . . ? 

Then who was the outsider? The Kike. The "Nigger 
to the nth degree" — as the paper had called him — who 
should have known better, having been granted the 
almost-more-than-provisional status of a White Man. 
But, yes, they could see it now. In his eyes — to which the 
papers so often referred. His feral eyes, as they said. His 
blank look. His lack of remorse. What contrast with this 
specimen of contrition, this, finally, this man, this Jim, 
who, though inferior in race, in intellect, in gifts, in sta- 
tus, still was the equal of all in his dedication to the idea of 
the whole. 

". . . and when . . ." Jim paused, and Frank saw the 
lawyers, the Judge, the courtroom, the world, in effect, 



96 DAVID MAMET 



wait. Patient. Endorsing him: "Yes, Jim, Yes. We know 
that it is difficult; and we know, even with our dispensation, 
that your natural courtesy — not to say your laudable un- 
derstanding of your place — inhibits the mention of the 
White Woman. Yes, but we wait." 

". . . and when . . ." Here Jim paused again, his face a 
mask of humility and confusion. "People," it said, "I am 
overcome. 

"And I know you would bid me continue. And I 
would please you and do my duty. But I am moved by 
grief. And know how unfitting, how insolent, how near- 
to-obscene it would be for me to deign to display my 
grief for a White Woman. I am lost. Help me." 

In memory, here, Frank half saw the prosecutor go to 
Jim and lay his arm around his shoulder. 

It had not actually occurred, but the feeling was so 
strong in the room, Frank was sure he was not the only 
spectator who had misremembered it. Jim then contin- 
ued speaking of the girl. Of how he had seen her, in the 
week previous, "having soft conversation" with Frank, in 
the narrow corridor outside the shipping area. Of how 
Frank advanced and how she retreated, shaking her head. 
Lost, confused. 

Was there ever such a man? 



The trial progresses 



How could they say Jim could not write? 

Frank and his attorney had told the prosecution of 
the existence of a note from Jim asking for reemploy- 
ment and they had searched the office, the files, but could 
find no such note. 

Even in its absence, how could the prosecution found 
its case upon a negative proposition: "No one has seen 
Jim write, so he cannot write"? But Frank had seen him 
write, as had his assistants in the office. One by one they 
were deposed; and one by one denied the existence of 
Jim's application; not "I do not recall ever seeing such a 
note," but, "No. It never existed." 

It never existed? How, then, did Frank communicate 



98 DAVID MAMET 



with Jim, when Jim requested reemployment? They'd all 
testified he had not come into the office. How did they 
communicate? He wrote and Jim wrote back. 

This was the point Frank tried to make in his con- 
ference with his attorney. "Ask them that," he said, and, 
always, the man looked down and away, indicating, 
"Please do not tell me how to run my affairs. I do not 
wish to embarrass you by pointing out your ignorance of 
my field." 

But the man was a fool. 

Frank saw, now, that that which he had taken for 
courage was foolhardiness.The attorney had no desire to 
see Frank acquitted. An acquittal would subject him to 
the rage of the city. No. He wished to be seen to have 
made a valiant effort. He wished to have upheld, at great 
personal cost, a principle — the right to a fair trial. 

"What a fool. What a fool I was," Frank thought. 
"Why did I enter into this charade? What could the man 
have possibly gained from my release? "The fees were poor, 
and had he 'won,' they might have been his last. 

"The swine," he thought, "I can see him now, in his 
clubs, in his haunts. 

"Smug. Sure. 

'"That was a fine thing you did . . .' And the man 
deprecating it. With a sad shake of the head, to indicate 
'a sad business.' 

"A vile business, but for the principle involved. And 



THE OLD RELIGION 99 

the interlocutor reiterating, 'No. A fine thing you did.' 
He could see both men. In some club. On some ve- 
randa. Bursting with self-congratulation. Calling the evil 
good. How like the Christian. How like the Christian, he 
thought. 



Testimony 



Of course he'd looked at the girl. How could he not? He 
was a man. But that was what they'd questioned at the 
medical examination. 

Fowler had talked of "rumors of his deformity and 
his perversion." What were these rumors? They had not 
existed until Fowler called them into being. 

Then the girls had come forth and alleged, "He 
could not do it like other men could," and they said, 
". . . his deformity," two of the three stumbling on the 
word. 

In what was it supposed to consist? This disgusting, 
undescribed, and indescribable malformation? That, as 
the others did, he had ungovernable sexual tastes but, un- 
like them, was incapable of satisfying them? That he, the 



THE OLD RELIGION 101 



Jew, was the same ravening lecher as the black, but his 
"performance," unlike that of the black in the Southern 
fiction, was pathetic — that he was, in fact, a eunuch. 

Was that why he'd been elected as the killer, in pref- 
erence to the sweeper, Jim, who, it was clear, had killed 
the girl? 

For Jim came in a dead man already. He was tried 
and convicted through proximity to the crime, and by the 
color of his skin — already sentenced absent the evidence, 
which served not to indict but merely to confirm and to 
add the verdict of reason to that of race prejudice. 

Jim was already dead. He'd raped and killed the girl, 
and afterwards scrawled, "I rite this while big blk mans 
has his way wid me." 

"Why would a black man," the attorney prosecuting 
had said, "why would a black man," he said, "try to evade 
suspicion by writing a note pointing to himself . . . ?" 

"Why would a man want to kill?' the defense attor- 
ney said. "The note is false. . . ." 

"Are you suggesting," Fowler said, "that this nigger, 
the sweeper, as in a chess game, thinking three moves ahead, 
that the man little more than an animal resolved, 'I will 
kill, I will molest and kill ...'?" 

Here the gallery and the jury and the judge inclined 
their heads somewhat as they always did at this point in 
the narrative, in respect for the dead, in solidarity with 
each other and with the generations past who had upheld 



102 DAVID MAMET 

the code, the amorphous code, the well-nigh or perhaps 
completely nonexistent code, to which they felt that they 
subscribed. 

"What is this code?" Frank thought, as the prosecu- 
tion droned on in that cadence, the substance of which 
never failed to entrance and delight his listeners. 

". . . and what is that right?" he thought. "What is 
that sweetness of which there is no surfeit?" Frank thought. 
"It is rectitude." 

". . . to her death — to her death, I say — and wrote a 
note? Had the presence of mind, barring — barring, mind 
you — the ludicrous notion that he had the foresight, that 
he had the presence of mind, to forge a chain of causa- 
tion whereby we would think, 'It cannot be Jim did the 
deed. Why? Because a note exists, written by the girl, and 
naming Jim . . .' But, of course, Gentlemen, the note is a 
forgery; and the defendant wrote the note. And so . . ." 

Franks mind drifted. "What folly the law is," he 
thought. "What might take its place? Perhaps it exists to 
prepare us for loss. And for sorrow — the clean promise 
of which becomes almost welcome after the obscene 
travesty of the law. And if we are to have cruelty, might 
we not call it by its name?" 

And he saw that for which he wished, that for which 
he wished in the law was not "common sense" but "par- 
adise." 

"I understand rage," he thought. "How comfortable 



THE OLD RELIGION 103 



to have it endorsed by one's peers. How lovely. That the 
state, that the community, that one's home and religion, 
all say, "Go forth and kill. In the name of God.' What 
have they done else these two thousand years," he 
thought, "with their prattle of 'progress,' of 'the future,' 
of 'change,' of 'America'? What swine, what fiends, what 
hypocrites — this American Religion." 

". . . he wanted me to do it with him," the factory girl 
had said, "and he made me go into the other room with 
him, and he told me I didn't do it with him, I'd lose my 
job, but when we got there, he took down his things . . . 
but he . . ." And here she paused, and when the court- 
room was cleared of the women spectators, and when the 
judge and the jury and the prosecutor all leaned forward, 
all quite, as solemn as only prurience endorsed can be, all 
that she would say was, "He was formed different." 

He was formed different. She would say no more. 
And she wept. 

Then they would look at him — proud, vehemently 
proud of their restraint in not falling upon him then and 
there and having his life. 

Formed different, she said. And the subsequently 
scheduled medical examination had the city rapt, waiting 
for news. 



His wife 



It was the grossness of his wife, he knew, which upset 
them. Her weight. Well, that was one of life's tragedies. 

And it was not — for he thought of it at length — that 
the association with the animal prompted the compari- 
son; no, he corrected himself, it may have, indeed, 
prompted it, but it was not at the core; for they looked like 
pigs, the men with their pink, rusty, milk-colored skins, 
and their necks growing out over their collars. They 
looked like pigs, with their short noses and their cheeks 
puffed out, and they were fat. 

They were fat, with their bellies dropping out and 
down over the belt, and vast legs, and the slow way that they 
turned their heads; who considered themselves full of 
self-restraint (you saw it in their eyes), who turned their 
heads so slowly as he passed, to say, "Yes. I see you. And 



THE OLD RELIGION 105 



of their own; not "trim,' 
own group at the Coffee 
None of it. He was 



I won't show that I judge you — though you are a fiend." 

Full of that vaunted Southern self-respect. 

And there was that which was attractive in it. There 
was that in it he could respect, if it were not so false. So 
vicious. 

He saw it was directed at his wife also. That they 
looked at her as they would at a sow. And, then, what 
was he? 

For they could not see their lack of fastidiousness, 
and accounted his fastidiousness priggish or inverted — 
his dress, his figure; not "dapper," as in some favored one 

' not "slight," not, if one of their 
Corner, "bantam," "Banty." 
the invert who did what with 
that gross woman behind him, behind the rail, sitting 
and crying. Crying at ary hour of the day — at this de- 
scription, that assertion, from the fatigue, God knows 
what, from the anxiety, from shame. 

At any moment. Continually, preternaturally. Weeping. 
As the crowd laughed at her, as if she were some animal. 

How could they laugh at her? Who spoke of South- 
ern Womanhood? They were the animals. 

And he supposed it was a blessing, that she was not 
what they, if it went thjit way, would call attractive, se- 
ductive, oriental, voluptuous — for what would they not 
make of that, who were so interested in sex, in his sex. In 
his penis, in his habits. As if he were a specimen captured 
by savages who'd never seen a white man. . 



Photographs 



If it had been the watch, could it not arguably have been 
the cardinal? And if it had been one or the other, did that 
not argue a plan; and, if a plan, then a reason for his trial? 

Or, if he'd been chosen at random, then, at least, rea- 
son behind a plan in which he had been caught by acci- 
dent? 

And if there was that force sufficient to make such a 
plan — given he'd been ensnared through no fault or 
through no error of his own — would that not counsel 
submission to a power of such magnitude? 

Submission, possibly, but not acquiescence, he thought, 
unless one could discern the reason, or the good, in it; 
and, even if so, why me, he thought, rather than another? 

Absent which answer, submission would become 
courage, not to say faith. 



THE OLD RELIGION 107 



"How much do we unwittingly intuit," he thought, 
"in extenuation of that which we lack the honesty to call 
'random'? So," he thought, "so, we could argue both sides 
of the proposition. 

"And if there were no predestination in the walk, or 
in the cardinal. Or in the watch, or in myself at all, and 
all my actions, and my very self, then . . ." 

"The Greeks wrote," the Rabbi had said, "'Either the 
Gods exist or they do not. If they do, then, no doubt, 
things are unfolding under their control,* if they do not, 
why should we mourn to depart a world ruled by chance?' " 

"All right. The watch. The cardinal," he thought. 
"Yes, these, but what portents did I ignore — for surely my 
consciousness, my capabilities, and my predilections pre- 
scribe the choice of my impressions. If I had been ill on 
that day, would I have stopped by the jewelry window at 
all? Or might I not have walked to the pharmacy? And 
what would have happened then? Or if I had stopped at 
Sloan's for a cigar? Or if I had lingered to watch the car- 
dinal . . . ?" 

". . . the pictures, Mr. Frank . . . ," the doctor said. 

Frank came around. He heard the man repeat the 
phrase, and his eyes focused, slowly, on him. "The pic- 
tures, yes," Frank said. They were of girls in various states 
of undress. Some having or pretending to have sex with 
other women, some with men, some simply sitting, look- 
ing, Frank thought, quite bored. Drugged, perhaps. He 
heard the doctor drone on. ". . . your impressions . . ." 



108 DAVID MAMET 

"What?" Frank said, and drifted away. 

". . .force you to cooperate?" he heard the doctor say. 
Then he was back again in contemplation of the cardi- 
nal. 

". . . or come another day. But I must insist on some, 
some, some semblance of cooperation." Frank drew in a 
long breath. 

"Or do you wish me to go and file this report with 
the Commission?" 

Frank looked at the man. 

"... and say that you've been uncooperative?" the 
man said. 

"I've lived my life as a fool," Frank thought. "Every 
word and every gesture of my life — those I called Good 
and those I called Bad — has been the act of a fool . . . 

"If there is this vicious stupidity in the world, and I 
have, to this point, escaped it by chance, by merest 
chance, thirty years, and accounted my astounding for- 
tune as a show of merit." He sighed. 

"A man had as well establish a school in How to 
Avoid the Plague . . ." 

"... all right," the doctor said. 

". . . because he'd had the blind fortune to've escaped 
it himself" he thought, "and so act as those 'authorities' 
who have escaped knowledge both of their and others' 
savagery, and set themselves up as philosophers." 

The man closed his portfolio and stood and gazed at 
Frank. 



THE OLD RELIGION 109 

"I'm sorry," Frank said. "What is it you wished to 
know?" 

"It's too late for that," the doctor said. 

"Well, then," Frank said, "please excuse me if I've put 
you out." 

He saw the man look to determine if he was being 
mocked, and he saw that the man felt he most probably 
was not, but could not completely dismiss the possibility, 
and he saw the man decide that dignity was best pro- 
tected by an angry exit, and he left the room accordingly. 

"Where was I?" Frank thought. "The bird. Although 
I wonder what he expected me to find in those pho- 
tographs. Or who the men were who created a science of 
looking at them. Wouldn't any two people, of necessity, 
have different thoughts and feelings, looking at those 
cards? And the doctor himself" he thought. 

"I wonder what his feelings were, in showing them to 
me. 

He rubbed his face. "What can they have been?" 

The guard opened the door and motioned for Frank 
to stand, which he did, reluctantly, as he preferred the 
room to his cell. 

He stood. The guard re-manacled his legs and mo- 
tioned Frank to leave the room. 

Frank shuffled down the corridor. The leg chain ran 
between his ankles. At its center was welded a second 
chain, the other end of which was a large ring, which the 
guard held in his hand. 



110 DAVID MAMET 



The guard walked behind Frank. The two moved 
slowly down the corridor, and through a large metal 
door, and into the cell block. 

"What can he have seen in those photographs?" 
Frank thought. 

"And what would induce a man to take a job like 
that?" 



Examination 



They claimed, as their racial due, the right to intimidate, 
and were outraged when that right was not endorsed. 

The way of our race, he thought, has been to agree 
with their position, and to couch all requests as appeals 
to their supposed merit. 

How insulting the phrase "a credit to his race"; and, 
equally, "their contributions to the country." What coun- 
try? And, to turn it on its head, those who would pa- 
tronize the Jews, what contributions had they made, past 
the accident of their ignorant birth? 

What Indians had they fought? What British? What 
vaccines invented, songs composed, what, in short, had 
they done except rest content on some supposed inherited 
merit? Those savage dogs on a dungheap, he thought. 



112 DAVID MAMET 

"But nothing will be defended as vehemently as a lie, 
and there's the truth of patriotism. 

"'Contributions,' indeed, meaning, 'what have you 
done for me?'" 

"A Christian country," he mused, "built on the lie 'I 
am saved.' 

"Saved from what? From death, which means what? 
That they have been rendered immortal? By what? By the 
incantation of a ritual phrase, 'I believe . . .' 

"What pagan idolatry," he thought. "It makes the sin 
of the Golden Calf charming and mild. 

"I am saved . . ."To be proved when? 

And can they really believe that their life on earth is 
worthless? Do they not mean it, rather, of the lives of 
others? 

"Savage, psychotic swine . . . ," he thought. 

As they prepared for his second examination. 

"And what did it mean to her, 'He is not like other 
men? She means, it was some misheard understanding of 
circumcision. Yet she was unsure what it meant." 

His lawyer should have said "Disrobe," he thought. 

"He should have had me do it in the courtroom, 
where it could have been shown. 

"What did it mean? What can the girl have meant?" 



He sat in his cell and looked back on the physical exam- 
ination. 



THE OLD RELIGION 113 



"Yes, I will. No, I will not. Yes. I will," he thought. 
"No. I will not. No. I will not think of it." 

But he could not keep himself from reliving the hu- 
miliation, the extremity which was mitigated only by his 
sense of wonder. 

"If only everyone knew," he thought. 



The end of the trial 



The power of the prosecutors case — to the extent it 
rested on fact — the power lay in the adamantine refusal 
of all to believe in Jim's intelligence. In their ability to as- 
cribe more than an almost preverbal animal responsive- 
ness to him. 

"What contempt he must have for whites," Frank 
thought. 

"He says 'nawsuh' and lowers his eyes. And he raped 
the girl, and killed her, and is killing me, and evades all 
penalty and all suspicion by saying 'nawsuh.' 

"Jim did not write the note, for Jim cannot write. 
Who, then, was the only person capable, placed at the 
scene? Who . . . ?" the prosecutor had said. 

But there were the letters. There was the black girl 



THE OLD RELIGION 115 



who had gone to his lawyers office and offered to sell the 
letters Jim had written her. 

The handwriting appeared to be the same as in the 
Mary Phagan note, "man has his way wid me." And Jim 
had signed them. There it was. There was the man proved 
a liar. 

"Then," Frank thought, "if there were only two who 
could have written the note, and if the writer was the 
murderer, and if it were shown that Jim wrote . . ." 

But what happened to the letters? 

"Love thing, I wants jus to be your man, an . . ." 

Day after day, Frank waited. And he waited till the 
end of the trial. His requests to his lawyer were answered 
by the same patient nod of the head. 

But the letters never appeared, and the trial ended, 
and he was sentenced to die. 



Taken to prison 



Whom did one thank when the sun went down? 

What could he thank, indeed? 

For it was pleasure to occupy his mind with philoso- 
phy, or conjugations of a verb, or to make lists. He 
would list the cities he had visited, the books he had 
read — the novels of Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, or 
Anthony Trollope. When he could not sleep he would 
have the books. And he would hoard them, as he thought 
of it, the more memorables titles till the end,* sometimes, 
of course, he would forget them — the memorable 
ones — as he made his list. At two, three, at any hour of 
the morning, he would be anxious to keep in his mind, in 
his sleepy mind, the well-known titles, and use them to 
swell his total. 



THE OLD RELIGION 117 

Saying, yet not saying them, to himself, as he listed 
the lesser-known works. But the effort preoccupied him. 
He was anxious lest he lose those bonus titles, as he 
thought of them, as he made his list. And this anxiety 
limited his ability to range freely. As a man carrying the 
armful of kindling cannot bend to pick up the one more 
stick. 

He felt these bonus titles impeded his effort to swell 
his total. 

And, if he were to count them at the end, had he not, 
efficiently, in "saving" them counted them already? 

And, indeed, he felt, each time he employed the de- 
vice, that it would be better to enroll at the outset these 
better-known books in his list and get on with it. 

But he never did. And he felt that it was a stupid ex- 
ercise, as the effort, designed to distract him — this mak- 
ing-of-a-list — rendered him worried and that much less 
disposed to sleep. 

For there were forty-seven of Trollope's novels in the 
prison library. And over the months he had read them all, 
but he never could remember more than thirty, and he 
strove for these, and, at the end of his memory, berated 
himself. 

The verbs were better. For he told himself there was 
some purpose in their re-enumeration. 

But even with the verbs, he rehearsed them not to im- 
press them on his mind, but to distract himself. 



118 DAVID MAMET 



If he did not so muse, evenings, his mind recurred 
regularly to the moments at the trial when he'd felt most 
humiliated. 

And he could not discharge these memories from, as 
it were, attendance on him. 

Like a scab at which he picked. 

He could not help the exercise of his obsessed 
recitals, nor could he forgive himself for what he felt was 
his shame in being humiliated. 

But work would help, and time would help, and the 
Rabbi told him the Torah would help. 

His other exercise was philosophy. 

He wondered, in those nights, if the Torah was given 
man to serve man or if man was, to the contrary, put 
upon earth to serve God, and our comfort or even com- 
pliance of no account thereto whatever. 

And what was strength, finally, but ability formed 
through repetition — in the fields, with the books, in his 
memory, in his mind? 

He rejoiced when he read: "What is he who conquers 
a city compared to him who conquers his own nature?" 

The despised Jew. The Kike. 

The stories that they told about the Jew in prison, on 
the streets, and in the novels. In each of his books there 
was the Jew, the moneylender, the Shylock, the figure of 
fun. 

Was it worthwhile to throw the book away at that in- 



THE OLD RELIGION 119 

evitable gibe, or could one not shrug and say, "For the 
sake of the ten I will spare the town"? And, so, read on, 
and obtain the amusement or diversion one contracted 
for? As in the book before him now "recoiled at the 
touch of the greasy moneylenders hand, as he counted 
the bills, one by one, into Phillip's possession — the smile 
on his face a presumption barely to be borne." 

He thought again of the men at the Coffee Corner, 
in the morning. Eating their roll, their fresh bread roll, 
and drinking their coffee with chicory. 

Thick men, freckled forearms, wide faces, smiling 
at each other. Smiling. Good, slow smiles, full of that 
sweetness of the South. 

It was not false. It was real. 

Hed seen it. Though he'd never felt it directed toward 
him. 

Like circumcision itself, his appearance debarred him 
from any option of mistake on their part. 

He was The Jew, and that was the end of it. 

And had he decried it? He had not. At the Coffee 
Corner, in the court? 

At home? At no time. 

Then was he so weak as to expect a reward? For the 
mere performance of his duty, in forbearing? Forbearing 
what? There was no choice in it. 

Well: man was weak. But it was his task, now, to over- 
come weakness. 



120 DAVID MAMET 



No. No. It was not his job to have been born with 
that capacity. 

It was his duty to repeat his efforts in spite of his in- 
abilities. And time would give strength to his operations, 
but it would not feel like strength. And when he looked 
back, to compare today with the past, he would feel not 
pride but sadness. It was this feeling, the Rabbi said, 
which was called wisdom. 

He read the novels, he studied the verbs, he rumi- 
nated on philosophy, in prison, where he was awaiting ex- 
ecution for the crime of murder. 



The tea 



He remembered the tea had tasted like salt. 

As he sat at his desk that last Saturday. 

The tea had tasted like salt. And he had ruminated 
on it. 

What could be the cause of that? he had wondered. 
Salt in the water, salt in the cup, salt in the tea? 

Would they adulterate the tea with salt? Why would 
they do that? Perhaps they "cured" it, somehow, he 
thought, with that which contained, or would, when put 
in contact with some other substance, "create" . . . (Not 
"create," he thought, "precipitate." Could one "create" 
salt? If the two components were brought into contact 
and some agent used to fuse them, had one "created" the 
salt? What other word, he wondered, could I use? "Facil- 



122 DAVID MA MET 



itate"? Certainly not. Am I not, am I not — yes, he 
thought, I can reason scientifically. Yes. If others can, 
then I can. Why not?) Am I not, then (and nothing but) 
a "catalyst" — which is that agent which brings about, but 
does not participate in, combination? 

This is what Man is. 

The very act of drinking tea. 

The very fact of checking ledgers; the fact of order- 
ing raw stock, as ordering the cedar blocks, in which I 
cause others to perform certain actions, as they, in turn, 
surely cause me. . . . 

What a joke. What folly — for now does my tea taste, 
after all, any the less like salt? 

What a shithole. 

Oppose me who can, for, in the keep of my mind, he 
thought, I am, if not free, then . . . then, he thought, less 
limited than I am outside its confines. 

"Miz Scholz," he then called, "could we try once 
again with this tea? In fact, please, could I have coffee?" 

"Well, we must advertise, and that's an end to it," he 
thought. 

To whom could he be thankful? And for what? Who 
aided us? They persecuted us. We strove and have en- 
dured in spite of them. Did they not persecute us? 

Does that deserve out thanks? 

And if, in an atmosphere of possibility, in a land of 
plenty, we thrived; if, free of persecution, one has man- 



THE OLD RELIGION 123 



aged, two have managed, and thrived, was this not the 
principle upon which the country was built? To let the in- 
dividual thrive, to let him pursue his goals of peace and, 
should it be, prosperity? Was this not the purpose of the 
founding of the country? So I say: If you have succeeded, 
you have done so through efforts of your own. If you 
were not impeded, those who ignored you did no more 
than was their duty as men. 

If you were aided, why should you not have been? 
Were you not entitled to it, as were those who aided you? 

This country is not God. You need not worship it. It 
was established to free men from the tyranny of kings, 
and it is our right here to pursue happiness and live in 
peace. Our right. Should a child prostrate itself in thanks 
that its parents have not beaten it? 

And was that child an orphan, how much more were 
they beholden to treat it with care. 

Am I in error? Show me where. 



The work clothes 



One never got wholly free of the stench in the prison 
clothes. Even when washed — perhaps especially then — 
they assaulted him with the stink of cheap soap and dirty 
rinse water, as if the stink was not washed out but fixed 
by the weekly ablution. 

He tried to school himself to identify that new- 
washed odor as "clean," but he could not do it. The 
clothes were filthy. The stench was geometrically com- 
pounded by the effort to hide rather than remove it. 

"I am too sensitive," he thought. "Most live with bad 
unpleasant odors all their lives. Why should I moan be- 
cause I, for a time, escaped it?" 

Pleased with his philosophic construction, he shook 
out the ash-blue clothes and laid them on the bed. 



THE OLD RELIGION 125 

They were stiff with the laundry starch. He thought, 
as he did every week, "If I could only wash the starch 
out, and hang them to dry in the sun . . ." 

His blue clothes . . . "Not blue," he thought, "not 
blue." White. Not grey. Ash white. Ash grey. Blue only by 
courtesy. Washed-out blue grey. Ash grey. Perhaps the 
color of stones on some far-off beach. Uninteresting 
stones — not those the traveler would remark, but those 
he overlooked. 

"People with eyes this color must be killers," he 
thought. "There is such a thing as 'killers' eyes,' that's 
true. That's certainly true. We must not credit the things 
we read in books. They all are advertisements. We must 
only trust the things which we have learned. 

"Does it always come through pain?" he thought. 
"Well, those lessons — there may be others, but those 
lessons are incontrovertibly our education. Those lessons 
exist beyond the power of anyone to talk us out of them. 
Like a stumbling against a hot stove. 

"Who, however deranged, would do that again will- 
ingly? Perhaps nothing less mechanical than this is edu- 
cation. 

"But what, now, would I do differently? 

"Believe in no one. Trust no one. Do nothing to set 
myself above the crowd. Confide in no one. Hope for 
nothing at all; arm myself, kill those who would torture 
me. Why must I submit to their obscenities in the name 



126 DAVID MAMET 

of some law? What is the law to me? I thought that it was 
my shield. When it protected me I 'believed' in it. What 
can that have meant? That I voted for myself." 

He looked at the work clothes laid out on the bunk. 

"Not the 'Negro' smell," he thought, "not the fresh 
washing mixed with sweat. Not the heat of the iron, but 
clothes as if they'd been boiled in shit." Exactly as if 
they'd been boiled in shit. 

He shook his head. 

Nothing, he thought, will be defended as vehemently 
as a lie. 



The food 



Someone of his friends had something of a diet in which 
he refrained from a few foods and lost the weight he'd 
wanted without effort. 

"I simply eliminated alcohol and dairy and sweets 
and bread," he'd said, "and I shed the weight. Eleven 
pounds in two months, although during the time, I had 
been traveling in Europe." 

Well, it was an issue, Frank thought. His wife was fat. 
As was her mother. And his father was fat. And his 
grandfather. 

His uncle, who had told the story, had been traveling 
in Britain, which, Frank thought, lessened the merit of 
his fast, as who had ever praised Britain for food? 

He thought about his uncle's pride, and wondered 



128 DAVID MAMET 



how much of it had to do with action contrary to 
what, for want of a better word, he thought of as "Jew- 
ishness." 

And, if the people were gross, if they so thought of 
themselves, was it not caused, this condition — if the 
condition was the thought or if obesity — by their dis- 
placedness? 

Aha, he thought. 

Though slim himself, though slender, though dis- 
posed to equate it with royalty, and though disposed to 
feel superior to his relatives, over those he knew, Jew and 
Gentile alike, who fretted over their weight, he fought the 
urge to consider himself chosen; and he wondered: might 
it not be a fear of the outcast? Might it not be the self- 
loathing, he thought, of the displaced — that their very 
metabolism would not function to allow them to assim- 
ilate food in a foreign land? 

"The very foods we eat," he thought. 

The jailer scraped his key along the bars as he came 
down the gallery. 

"Yes, All right," Frank thought — and there was 
something comforting in the sound. 

"'Royally slim,'" he thought, "although I know they 
called me sickly. And turned on me for it. Slim. Slight. 
Slender. Girlish." He shuddered. 

"Or, in Arctic climes," he thought, "there it would be 
a disadvantage definitely. Where the body's urge to put 



THE OLD RELIGION 129 

on flesh would serve one. And the opposite not do one 
well. But in the South . . ." 

Down the row, there was a quick conversation in un- 
dertones. The guard and a prisoner down the row, talk- 
ing. 

The guard responded, not unkindly, from the tone, 
to the request, whatever it was. Then Frank heard another 
brief exchange — almost an exchange of pleasantries — 
between the two, and then the guard moved on, dragging 
his key on the bars as he moved from cell to cell for the 
evening lockdown. 

"But in the South you would think it was an advan- 
tage," Frank thought. "I always found it so — not to be 
disposed, for example, to sweat." 

The guard was at his cell, and he heard the key rasp- 
ing on the bars, and then the quick tack-fM, as the key 
went into the lock. And then he was locked down for the 
night. 

"No. I will not think of fire," he thought. "In fact, its 
opposite is Cold of the North, and the Eskimos I have 
just fortuitously touched upon. Though they themselves 
are slight. But muscled. And disposed, I think, to brawn. 
To a brawn tempered by cold — so that, perhaps, it's ac- 
curate to call them slight. 

"I would think they're of a type similar to their dogs, 
as both have been bred both by the climate in which they 
live and by their exertions in that climate." 



130 DAVID MAMET 



He tried to think whether any species fell outside of 
this description, and could only offer himself, trans- 
planted. 



They were late with his food. 

"All right," he thought. "I have to learn the difference 
between defending my position and promoting my inter- 
ests. 

"I am entitled to my food, and a case could be made 
for demanding it on time this time, to ensure compliance 
in the future. And that would be an attempt — for who 
can say it would succeed? — to defend my position. 

"But would it promote my interest? 

"First," he thought, "Is it worth fighting for? And, 
then, is it worth . . . No. No," he thought. "It is all con- 
tained in the first question. That is the question: 'Is it 
worth fighting for?' 

"That is the question of the philosopher who is not 
afraid to seem foolish. Who is not afraid to be thought 
weak. Who can rest content with his own opinion of 
himself — for it is myself 1 must conquer, and he who con- 
quers himself is due more praise than he who takes a city. 
For if I can still my longing to be thought well of, 
then . . . 

"And I am not hungry," he thought. "Finally, I don't 
want the food now. I do not require it. I require to be 
thought well of. 



THE OLD RELIGION 131 



"Then what kind of beast am I — for they have kid- 
napped me and will surely kill me, who would strive to 
defend his — no, I will not say it," he thought — "manhood 
by demanding the food be brought him at the appointed 
time. 

"Are all quests for recognition similarly vain?" he 
thought; and, as he did, they brought the food. 

One man opened the cell, while the other man stood 
back with the pump shotgun. The man with the tray 
came in and set it on the bench. As he bent down, he 
flicked his eyes up to look at the prisoner. Then he 
backed out, and the cell was locked. Frank heard the two 
men walk away. 

"He smells of cabbage," he thought. 

"The cell still smells of cabbage, and it's from that 
fellow. Looks like a sausage. And where is it written I 
must love my neighbor?" 

He looked at the tray. He picked the small bench up 
and put it next to his bunk. He sat on the bunk and 
began to eat. 

"No. Where do we find we must love our neighbor? 
No. We must treat them well," he thought, and found that 
he was pointing, as if in a disputation. And he wondered 
if it was a "Jewish" gesture, and a "Jewish" trait. And he 
wondered, "What does that mean?" And he thought, 
"You know what that means." 

He ate his meal, happy to find he was hungry for it. 



His books 



"And what can it mean that he gave his only begotten 
son? If he had a son, where was his wife? And is that not 
idolatry? Where is his wife? No. I'm sorry. 

"And the difference is here: Abraham did not kill his 
son. Their God did. And the difference is 'God so loved 
the world,' where we are not told 'God loved the world'; 
we are told to love Cod. 

"And we are not told we should love the world. And 
perhaps it is the love of the world which leads to murder, 
where the love of God . . . 

'"Abracadabra,"' he thought. '"I create as I speak.' 

"It did not ward the plague off. And in Les Miserahles, 
we see it in their chain letter: 'Little White Paternoster, 
save me from . . .' 



THE OLD RELIGION 133 

'"But if I am to have wisdom I must pass beyond 
hate,' one voice said. And the next said, 'Why?' 

"Is it an advance to be told to 'love our enemies'? 
Who does so?" 

He looked down at his plate. 

"And some food goes slowly and some goes fast. But 
if you leave it on your plate it will rot, and the more 
complex the organism, the quicker it will rot and the 
worse it will stink. What does that tell us?" he thought, 
and, "How many processes were used to stamp this metal 
tray?" He examined it. 

"Only two," he pronounced, and nodded. "And the 
name of the maker part of the second. 

"No. I lie. For the initial stamping makes one, to 
gain the shape, and I would not venture to combine it 
either with the impression to give the depth nor with 
turning the rim. So say three, and the stamping of the 
name part of the second. What is business but fore- 
thought?" 

He mopped up the sauce with his bread. He wiped 
his hands on a handkerchief taken from the back pocket 
of his dungarees. 

He rose and sighed and moved the small bench back 
to the wall. 

He took the tray and its utensils and placed them on 
the floor near the bars. 

He turned and looked at his books. 



134 DAVID MAMET 



There was the Hebrew primer. There was Les Mis- 
erabks. 

There was the Torah, in Hebrew and English. There 
were three novels by Anthony Trollope. There was the 
notepaper and, there, the several pencils. 

Behind him were the bars. 

"Abraham refrained," he thought. "I'm sorry, but 
that's true." 

He picked up a piece of notepaper, folded it double, 
and used the corner to clean a space between two teeth. 
Then he sat on his bed. 

"Oh, Lord, I'm tired," he thought. 



The Rabbi 



"There seem to be two courses," he said, "though they 
both may be one. But I do not think they are." 

"Go on," the Rabbi said. 

"The first is to do these things to better ourselves; or 
to become ... I don't know how to say it, but the end, I 
think, is to become . . . the words I might use are 'fuller,' 
or 'wiser,' or 'more happy — I think that those are the 
words — through the things that we do. 

"The second, for want of a better word, is 'to serve 
God.'" He looked at the other man. "What do you think 
of that?" 

"There are many ways to serve God," the Rabbi said. 

Frank's face fell. 



136 DAVID MAMET 

That night he thought about the Rabbi. 

"Well, what was he but a man? An overworked man, 
out of goodness or, perhaps, if he was paid for it, out of 
necessity — but lump them together under one head and 
say, 'from a sense of duty' — working as a prison chaplain. 

"A tired man, of necessarily stock responses. He was 
sent not to 'share my enlightenment' but to enlighten me — 
which, in fact, he does. Through his unconcern. It is not 
to him, but to me, to reason," he thought. "Why should 
he care for me at all?" 

"He, I am sure, in fact, has prejudice against a man he 
cannot but think guilty. Ah." He nodded. 

"Guilty and 'Bad for the Jews.' What could be worse 
for the Jews than I? What could be worse?" 

"And perhaps, to suffer in silence is to Sanctify the 
Name. 

"What trash runs thought my head," he thought. 
"What nonsense. 

"What effort there is in weaning oneself from the 
world. We can succeed for one second, then we are drawn 
back into it. Briefly, briefly, free of regret. Free of our 
anger. For a moment. And then drawn back into it. All 
those beasts . . ." 

He thought he saw pictured before him the court- 
room, and the faces of the reporters, transfixed in perfect 
completion. Perfect in their happiness, in their submis- 
sion in the Tribe — as Levites assisting the sacrifice. 

"You swine," he thought. "You Christians." 



A skill 



The process of learning a foreign language seemed to 
him the paradigm of human endeavor. 

One struggled in the darkness; and mastery came — 
when it came — in increments so small as to be recogniz- 
able only in retrospect. 

And accomplishment carried no particular joy, only a 
feeling of irritability. As, he thought, of course the word 
for "eternally" in Hebrew was tamid. 

"Further," he thought, "to whom could I boast of 
my mastery of Hebrew? The Jews would take the ability 
as a matter of course, and no one else would care." 

In learning, one said, "I will know it in the future." 
But that particular future never arrived, for the term — in 
its use here — meant "the present." 



138 DAVID MAMET 



"Not a time to come," he thought, "but a magical, si- 
multaneous present. Like this time in all respects save 
that in it I will speak the foreign tongue. 

"For who would pine for a time to come which was 
remarkable only for the fact that time had passed, in 
which passing time one had suffered to master a skill? 

"No," he thought, "the future is simply idolatry. 
And, similarly, 'Change', and 'tomorrow.' 

"Equally the past. For that is how they've condemned 
me — in the search for a magical past, like the present in 
all respects but with no Jews. 

"They long for some magical past when there was no 
strife; and point and say, 'If he were gone, this past would 
reappear.' 

"So this past is, again, the future — for even if one 
could return to it, when would one do so but in a sub- 
sequent moment? So, it is the Magic Future, free of 
strife, in which the Goyim will be freed from their 
historic impediment, and in which, equally, I will have 
mastered Hebrew, and the seven forms of the Hebrew 
verb. 

"Well, then," he thought, "how can that future exist 
in which, at once, I have mastered Hebrew and there are 
no more Jews? 

"Clearly no one future can exist, for all are, to a cer- 
tain extent, at least potentially contradictory; or, say, 
'mutually excluding'; and so, it is not the future at all 



THE OLD RELIGION 139 



which one seeks, but (in a supportive proof) idolatry, and, 
so, it is proved. 

"Which does not help me with the following verb: 
shin hay mem, to guard. Shamoor, guarded. Shomer, guarding. 
Nismor, guarding, or protecting, oneself. 

"How peaceful it is here, he thought. 



The Hebrew language 



The Rabbi took a packet of tobacco from the pocket of 
his shirt and began rolling a smoke. He offered his hands 
toward Frank, who nodded, his thoughts far away. 

He finished rolling the one and then the second cig- 
arette. He handed both across toward Frank, who took 
one. 

The Rabbi took a kitchen match from the same 
pocket of his shirt and struck it on the side rail of the 
iron cot. The smell of sulfur filled the room. 

"Why does it make the heat less?" Frank said. He 
looked at his cigarette. 

"Does it? I think it does. ..." 

'"F you thought of it . . . ?" 

"I think . . . ," the Rabbi said, "that it distracts us. . . ." 



THE OLD RELIGION 141 



The men sat there smoking for a moment. Then the 
Rabbi raised his eyebrows to say, "Well? Shall we con- 
tinue?" Frank nodded, and they bent over the books, 
spread open on the cot. 

"Zachor" he said. "To remember. Lecket, to glean. 
Shamar, to guard. Nagah, to touch." 

He continued. The Rabbi leaned back in his chair, to 
take his body out of the sun. There was some cool in the 
wall of the cell, and a small triangle of shade between the 
wall and the bars. 

"Ahav, to love. Shatah, to drink. Haiti, favor, or grace. 
Maskoret, reward. Azov, to leave. Antrim, sheaves. Poal . . ." 

Frank s thought went back to the trial, as always. Not 
his arrest, or the assault that day on the streets, not his 
incarceration, but the trial. 

"Was I naive?" he thought, as part of his mind 
thought most of the day, every day; and, "Was ever any- 
one so naive?" He rebelled at the presence of the other 
man in his cell, as if, now, as his thoughts recurred to the 
trial, the other man were witnessing his degradation. 

He looked at the shadow on the floor. The window 
bars, across the joint in the flooring, told an angle of 
thirty degrees, or two o'clock. In half an hour the Rabbi 
would leave. But how, he wondered, could he get through 
the half hour? 

"Yes . . . ?" the other man said. 

Now the cigarette was hot, burnt to his fingers, and 



142 DAVID MAMET 



the smoke was hot in his lungs. He took the coffee can 
and pushed the butt into the sand in it and held it toward 
the other man, who shook his head and then inclined it 
toward the book, to say, "Let us continue." 

Frank was overcome, at that moment, by his hatred 
of the Rabbi — by furious, overwhelming hatred for him 
and for all that he represented. 

"No," he thought. "No. Wait. No. Wait. What am I 
going to do now? Kill him? What? Kill? Measly little Jew. 
Sour sweat. What is he, sweating into his cheap suit? 

"Why doesn't he take his coat off?" 

The Rabbi was speaking. 

"What?" Frank said. "What . . . ?" 

"Moledet" the man said. 

"What . . . ?" 

"Moledet." 

"Birth. Birth." Frank said. "Birth. Kindred." 



Shalat 



There was no talk of a pardon, he was told. It was 
enough, he was told, that the governor had commuted 
his sentence to life in prison. That man would never 
again, he was told, hold elective office in the state; and 
was, in fact, he was told, in danger. He had received 
threats. He . . . 

Frank dozed somewhat, as his lawyer went on. he 
heard the references to "years to come" and "eventually"; 
and he drifted off, and, in his mind, this haze mingled 
with his sleep in his cell; and the lawyer seemed, in his 
dream, to be using a Latin term, and that term was "salt." 

"Assault?" he wondered. "Soult?""Saut?"The root was 
familiar, but he could not apply it to the present case of 
his incarceration. 

"And why should he speak in foreign tongues?" he 
thought. "What is the purpose of it but to obscure?" 



144 DAVID MAMET 



But perhaps it was Hebrew, he thought, in his dream. 
The Leshon HaKodesh. The Holy tongue. "Salt." He re- 
duced it to Shin LamedTof. "What can this root mean?" He 
dreamed, in his dream, he was in as stone building in 
some Eastern port city. He was dressed in a toga and car- 
ried a roll of papyrus, or what he took papyrus to be, as 
he walked into the building which he then knew was a li- 
brary. But there were women there, which struck him as 
odd, as he knew that women, in the city in which he 
found himself, in ancient Greece, in Rome, perhaps, 
would not have been allowed into the building. 

"Not women," he thought. "That was not the operative 
prohibition. It was Jews. Jews would not have been al- 
lowed. "I would not have been allowed. . . ." 

During the day, he thought back on the dream. 
He progressed. From "What was I seeking?" to "some 
word," to "some legal term," to "sue"; and, thus, to the 
memory of his encounter with the lawyer the afternoon 
before, and, thus, to its reiteration in that evenings 
dream, and, unbidden, later, to the word "salt." 

But was it Hebrew? he thought. 

When his work in the dispensary was finished, he re- 
turned to his cell for prayers. And, after prayers he took 
down the lexicon, and a pad and pencil. 

"Shin. Lamed. Tof" he wrote out. "Or, Shin. Lamed. Tet; 
or, Samech Lamed Tet or Tof he wrote. "Or . . ." Here he 
looked at the list and perceived these would be enough 
for his beginning. 



THE OLD RELIGION 145 

Under the first he found nothing. Under the second, 
"Sbalat. Shin. Lamed. Tof: to domineer. From the Aramaic: to 
overcome, to prevail." 

Could that be it? But, no — as it solidified, and be- 
came not an unexplained experience but a landmark, and 
that landmark only the one meaning, and that meaning 
unconnected to his dream, he discarded it. It was devoid 
of mystery. That mystery was the word "salt," which he 
had dreamed, and which was being brought back to him 
to remind him, to admonish him. But of what? 

And, suddenly, he was back in his kitchen. On that 
Saturday morning. Over his breakfast. Sitting alone. 
Early. Ruthie out shopping, as she did Saturdays, his wife 
asleep upstairs, and he was in his kitchen, cooking por- 
ridge. He was reading the newspaper. His hand went out 
for the salt, and the glass jar knocked over, the cork fell 
out, and the salt sprinkled over the counter. 

"That," he thought, "was my first premonition. If I 

had one. As I look back to it: that was it." And then he 

thought, "There is no augury in Israel, No sorcery in 

- Tudah," and, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," and, 

r "... no signs or portents." 

But surely theTorah contradicted itself on this point, 
as it did on most every point, giving alternate or con- 
flicting advice or commandment. 

Were there not, he thought, Medad and Eldad, whom 
Moses himself allowed to prophesy? And was there not . . . 

"No," he thought. "This is new to me, and I should 



146 DAVID MA MET 

not be allowed to confute even myself in this ancient argu- 
ment. . . ." 

("Nadah and Abihu," a descant ran in his mind.) 

"... and Baalam," he thought. "Whose prophecies 
were directed by the Lord. And . . . and the Prophets 
themselves," he thought. "Ezekiel, Elijah himself; and, fur- 
ther . . . 

"I must ask the Rabbi" and "The man knows noth- 
ing" warred in his head. From the short conflict emerged: 
"What can you expect of a prison system so poor, so 
savage; and from a man who himself . . ." The conflict 
reemerged with: "No, I will not think ill of the Rabbi, 
who, whatever his incompetencies, has worked to help 
me. 

"The salt was spirit" he thought. The feeling grew as 
it came back to him. ". . . and I thought, 'scrape it up and 
throw it over your shoulder.' and then I thought, 'that's 
superstition, and unfitting to a man who can understand 
the workings of cause and effect.' And then I thought . . ." 

He remembered how he prided himself on his logi- 
cal process: "I am a careful man, and am I to fly in the 
face of ancient custom (which would not exist without a 
reason) without first examining it? For my desire to per- 
form magic with the salt is strong." 

And he remembered hearing his wife stirring up- 
stairs, at that early, unaccustomed time, and hoping she 
would not come down to spoil his cherished Saturday 
morning privacy. 



THE OLD RELIGION 147 

"Why might it exist?" he thought. "That supersti- 
tion? And could it, in any way, affect the progress of. . ." 
Here he remembered the boy riding past on the bicycle, 
and here, too, that the day was the Confederate Memor- 
ial Day; and that he might have difficulty with the crowds 
on his way home from work. 

He had swept the salt with the fat side of his hand, 
toward the counter edge. It formed small, diagonal ridges 
in the moist day, adhering to the wood; but he swept it 
along, over the edge, and into his other palm, as he de- 
bated. 

He wondered how he would act next — puzzled that 
he could divide himself in two: the actor and the ob- 
server at once; and the actor again into two: he who 
would throw and he would not throw the offering; and 
then it came to him, and he raised his left hand, and held 
it over the porridge pot, and threw the salt into it. 

"I have not wasted it," he thought. "It has meaning." 

But what was that word? 

He glanced down at the pad and saw, written there, 
Shakt. He tried to remember its meaning, and found it 
was gone. 

"No, it must be there," he thought. "For it was there 
a moment ago. Shin. Lamed. Tof. Shalat: to . . ." "Yes?" an op- 
posing voice asked. "Yes," he thought. "To overcome. 
From the Aramaic." 



A different religion 



There was something in it. However he tried. 

There was something in it . . . just beyond him; he 
knew what it was when he did not confront it intellectu- 
ally. 

When he looked away, as it were, there it was. It was 
a warm and correct feeling of belonging. "That is it," he 
thought. "It feels 'correct.' " 

It was a "clean" word, he thought. 

But when he confronted it beyond the issue of faith, there 
was little he could see. 

When he confronted it, he saw that they did not 
want him and despised his efforts to belong. He saw 
that, to them, he would always be a Jew. And that all his 
ratiocination regarding assimilation was, to them, pa- 



THE OLD RELIGION 149 



thetic. More, that there was but a short step between 
their sad bemusement at his antics and their rage. But be- 
yond that, he felt, there was something in it that he — not 
"as a Jew," certainly no, but "as a man" — was entitled to. 
Something that They had. 

That something was his right as an American. That 
was his right as a citizen of a country which guaranteed 
religious freedom. 

What was that freedom, if not the Freedom to 
Choose? 

Oh, but the smallest movement could have meaning. 
Not only the larger signs, oh, no, the smaller signs too — 
and, perhaps, more so. 

"There is a different religion," the Rabbi said. "It is 
no more complex than that. 

"Medad and Eldad," said the Rabbi. "Yes. Nadab 
and Abihu. 

"The question of prophecy. Where were we?" 



Americus 



What was "the Country"? Frank thought. There was no 
country. There was but a loose association of common 
interests cloaked, for convenience, in the mantle of a civil 
religion. 

This religion was the highest authority, to transgress 
against which was death. 

That was, he reflected, a democracy. This was 
democracy: the rule of the Mob. The Mob had elected 
itself God, and worshiped itself under another name. 
That name was America. "But," the Rabbi said, "the 
dove had been dispatched the three times. Once, it had 
returned. The second time, it returned with the branch in 
its mouth, and the third time, it had not returned at all. 

"Could it not be," Frank reflected, "that the dove had 



THE OLD RELIGION 151 

wanted to remain on the ark? That when Noah expelled 
it, it returned hurt, hurt and fearful; that when he sent it 
out again, it returned with this evidence: the land exists, 
but it is bitter. 

"Here, I bring the representative fruit. 

"Then, when Noah repulsed it again, it went forth, 
having been given no choice but to make its way in that 
bitter world. 

"Marah," the Rabbi said, "is 'bitter.' It survived in 
Latin and the Romance tongues as amer, which we see 
further elaborated but essentially unchanged in the map- 
maker s name Americus and in the land America." 

"Vast ships upon the sea," Frank thought, "brought 
starved men, clothed in armor, to the wonder of the 
brown-skinned natives. 

"And the well of Miriam," the Rabbi said, "followed 
the Israelites throughout the decades in the desert. 
'Miriam' is also from marah. And also the well is meribah." 

"The ark," Frank thought, "thus becoming also the 
Garden of Eden. From which they did not wish to be ex- 
pelled." 

". . . and in the modern 'Mary,' " the Rabbi said. 

"For the land," Frank thought, "the land is bitter." 



Visiting day 



He turned the ring on his finger as he waited for his wife. 

"Yes," he thought, "I know I am doing it." 

He remarked the prison smells, and tried to sense 
them as she might: repugnant, fetid, revolting, the sewage 
smell — that nameless poverty and despair and sewerage 
and sweat which was in the wood, which so revolted him 
at first. 

"That was the worst trial," he thought. The clothes 
imperfectly cleaned and, then, ironed, the stink burned 
into them. 

That smell. The stench of shit on everything. 

"Is it an actionable luxury to be clean," he thought, 
"and should the clean atone for their mindless enjoyment 
of magnificence? What must she think, to come here 
smelling of soap, her very dress clean? 



THE OLD RELIGION 153 

"In the desert, the air was dry. Smells did not carry. 
Everyone was washed in sweat. Everyone's diet and life 
was the same, so odors, when they came, went unre- 
marked; or, if remarked, were not improbably recognized 
as the smell of home. 

"Not unlike the furniture polish on the hall hatrack; 
for a nomadic people have only each other. That is their 
home." 

She came forward, the lawyer at her side. He watched 
them. 

He noticed he had stopped twisting the wedding 
band. 

He stood and caught the eye of a guard, who nodded 
to him. 

He walked the three paces forward to the wire mesh, 
and waited for his wife. His finger held the place in the 
grammar book. 



Songs 



He walks with me, and he talks with me 
He tells me that I am his own. 
And the joy we share, as we tarry there, 
None other has ever known. 

The words came to him on the breeze from down the 
prison yard, and they seemed sweet, like the breeze. The 
words seemed natural, as the discovery of some previ- 
ously unsuspected force, some force which underlay the 
conscious world, and moved it. 

Like the force of love, as it's discovered to an adoles- 
cent. 

Or the force of fatherhood, where one says, "Now. 
Ah. Now I understand" — Where so much unclear be- 
comes clear, and we see understanding is not a reordering 



THE OLD RELIGION 155 



of opposites in the mind but the clarification of appar- 
ent contradiction into simplicity. 

"Yes," he thought. "Clean as the breeze and fecund 
like the breeze. Like the spring field: the notion one is 
saved — that one has but to embrace salvation and one is 
saved. 

But the fallacy — the Rabbi had said — lay in this: 
One cannot award oneself salvation. The joy one feels in 
doing so comes from usurpation of the power of God. 

In linking salvation — whatever that might be — to 
faith, one sets oneself the simplest of tasks and, upon its 
completion, awards oneself Godhood. Of course that 
feels good. "How could that feel otherwise than good?" 
the Rabbi said. To have illicit sex, or rape, or murder, 
sanctioned by Authority, that felt good too. "Any idola- 
try," the Rabbi said, "that is the force which sent you 
here. 

These saved folk have been convened these two thou- 
sand years to kill and hate and call it good. 

Of course they're wedded to it. What savage ever de- 
nominated his barbarity other than Reason? 

"Of course it feels good," the Rabbi said. 

"And tell the drunkard his vileness is a religion, and 
the dope fiend his lack of control is blessed. . . ." He 
paused. 

"We do not know what is right." the Rabbi said. "We are 
incompetent to distinguish it. Our eyes lead us astray. 



156 DAVID MAMET 



Our heart leads us astray. That is why we are bonded to 
follow the mitzvot: what else do we have? The delusion of 
comprehension, which leads us to proclaim we are God. 

"We understand nothing" 

"Of course you're drawn to their songs," Frank 
thought. "You fool." 

"And so drawn to the singers of the songs, and their 
supposed 'community.' 

"And do you think they would have you if you em- 
braced them? You are an object of scorn. Why? Why? 
It is not for you to say. Do you hear? It is not for you to 
say. 

"Stand guiltless before God — to the extent you 
can — and let the Christians behave as they will. You can- 
not stop them. 

"You cannot join them. Why would you want to? 

"Study, live, and die." 

But the song came through the window: "I walk in 
the Garden alone . . ." 

"To be a man," the Rabbi said, was to behave as a 
man in that situation where there were neither the trap- 
pings nor the rewards of manhood: scorned, reviled, 
abandoned, humiliated, powerless, terrified, mocked. 

"Now be a man . . ." the Rabbi said. 

The song came through the window, and as he de- 
nominated it strength to resist it, to that extent he felt 
strong. 



The dot 



Who would know that the dot had not been placed on 
the i at the time the word was written? 

What process, he wondered, what forensic magic, 
would reveal it? 

For he had no doubt that such methods existed,* or, if 
they did not, that they would come into being at some 
future date. 

For it was on that most powerful entity he pinned his 
hopes — upon that benevolent God he knew: when he re- 
ferred to it by name, it bore a name too simple and mun- 
dane to compass its clear awesome power. Its quotidian 
name, the Future. 

In the Future, methods would exist, he knew, to re- 
veal all that had been hidden. 



158 DAVID MAMET 



Methods would exist — for, no, we could not feel that 
they existed now. (Would not their current being detract 
from any potential redemptive aspect of their discovery? 
Yes, he thought, it would.) 

Such methods would — though the groundwork 
might be allowed to have been laid (for what can build 
on nothing?) — have to come to light in years to come, 
brought into being for some other task; not, he knew, 
certainly, for the purpose of examination of his life, or 
of this letter; nor, perhaps, for the analysis of ink at all, 
but for some unconnected application. Then, he thought, 
at some point it would be discovered, as a matter of 
course, that such methods had a wider use, had many 
uses, one of which was the dating of ink. 

Then, when the arcane became the open; then, at that 
golden time, the time of the Future, of Progress, of 
Change, of Heaven, in fact; in that time, then, when the 
processes existed, when the black ignorance of the pres- 
ent had been cleansed through a simple perseverance . . . 
then, yes, the technology would — he could not doubt 
it — exist to date the ink. 

Then they would know that his confession bore a se- 
cret, different and, perhaps, in a way, more mysterious 
and deeper than the Simple Secret of his Soul — what- 
ever that might be. 

He'd fought with it. 

Though driven by the urge to purify himself, though 
driven in each sentence, at each word, to speak the truth, 



THE OLD RELIGION 159 

he knew he lied. Every word, he thought, colored by the 
wish to defend, to extenuate, to distract. ("To distract 
whom?" he thought, but continued.) 

In any case, to attempt both to cleanse and to defend 
himself, he wrote of his pride, and of his arrogance, and 
of his dishonesty in social dealings. He wrote of his off- 
hand treatment of his wife, and wrote and wrote. At 
all times thinking, "I could continue transcribing these 
'sins of character' interminably. For I know them to be 
true as they are endless. My sins are endless. But I am not 
cruel." 

And as he thought it, he wrote it: 

"... mistreatment of those around me. And sloth." 
But I am not cruel. 

His written confession continued. 

As he wrote, he was troubled by the reference to 
sloth. 

For he knew himself to be hardworking. Not, cer- 
tainly, like the factory hands, no. But hardworking. Ded- 
icated, in fact. In the area, the administrative area, of his 
operations. 

And not cruel. 

Here, again, he was troubled, in a way different from 
that occasioned by his assertion of industry. For he knew 
he'd written the denial of cruelty for the eyes of some 
person or power in the future, which would have interest 
in him solely — he would have to admit it — as he was 
convicted of killing that girl. 



160 DAVID MAMET 

And they might interpret this, his freewill confes- 
sion, as a sign of his guilt. 

They might — might they not? — magnify what he 
thought of and was ashamed to realize he thought of as 
his "flaws." 

No, no, his disingenuousness, his candor in the frank 
confession of his sins, was, and he knew it was, an arro- 
gance. 

And he might, he knew, in fact be guilty of those very 
sins the confession of which induced him to think he 
was pure of. 

But not of cruelty. No. 

And as he wrote it, he felt that he had transgressed. 
"I am not cruel," he wrote, and felt that, here, the mech- 
anism was inverted. 

For he felt, in the heart of himself, that he was, in 
fact, not cruel. He had known cruelty, and had seen it, 
and could not recognize it in himself. But as he wrote in 
his confession "I am not cruel," he felt the mechanism 
thus: Yes, but I have transgressed in the transcription, and 
my assertion must mask a cruelty of which I am uncon- 
scious. 

He looked back up the page. 

He saw that the i of "insight" sloped into the n, and 
that he had not dotted the i. 

Though he knew that the word was clear enough 
from context, and was, in fact, most legible as it stood, he 



THE OLD RELIGION 161 



took the pen and put a dot over the i, which, through the 
delicacy of his touch, achieved the character of a minute 
flowery rhombus. 

"Who would know," he thought, "the dot was not 
placed on as I wrote the word?" 

As he raised the pen, he admired the apparent unity 
of the dot and the letter. 

He could not, "even in possession of 'the facts,' " as 
he thought, see any inconsistency of color or form in the 
two. 

"Someday, however," he thought, "the science will 
exist," and sighed. "But what would induce one to apply 
it in this case?" 

He thought, "And what would it accomplish?" 

He sat up, his feet on the floor, sitting up straight on 
the bunk. His confession on a writing board on his 
knees. 

"Why would they ever be moved to examine it?" he 
thought; and, "The secret will die with me." 



Punishment 



"It says throughout," the Rabbi said, "that they are 
blessed who bless us, and cursed who curse us. I believe 
our history has shown this is true." 

If there were a God, Frank thought, then that which 
has befallen me could not be random. If it were ordered, 
then, surely, I could determine a cause-and-effect rela- 
tionship between my actions and my trouble. 

But here, he thought, he committed the error of an 
egocentric theology. For could not and must not Gods 
objectives be different from his own? "Must they not dif- 
fer?" he thought; and, again, "If I assign a reason to my 
trials, such reason beyond my comprehension, do I not, 
again, suggest myself, in my very punishment, important 
to God? 



THE OLD RELIGION 163 



"But then, perhaps, I am important to God, but my 
happiness is not. Or, perhaps, my happiness is not, but 
my welfare is; and He, whatever power He is, construes 
the second more important than the first. Like a good fa- 
ther — or, for all that, like a bad father also. 

"A man," the Rabbi had said, "a poor man, found a 
fine horse upon the road. 'How fortunate you are,' his 
friends said. 'Well,' the man said, 'well, you never know.' 
His son took the horse out to ride, and was thrown, and 
was maimed. 'How misfortunate you are,' the friend said, 
and the man said 'Well, you never know' But the next day 
the recruiting officers came round, to press the Jewish 
boys. Where they would go to the Czar's army to serve 
twenty-five years. But the man's son was maimed, and so 
he was spared. 'How fortunate you are," his friend said, 
and the man . . ." 

"Yes," Frank thought. "In fact, that is true." 



Gematria 



The Hebrew dictionary was his passport to another land. 

"If I had a photographic memory" he thought, "I'd 
have but to glance at it — but where would be the merit in 
that?" 

And he felt a kind of self-indulgence, a sumptuous- 
ness, in fact, reading through the words, knowing he 
could not retain them, that they were his for the moment 
only. 

"There is that of cultism, of the Mandarin, in the 
perusal of the ancient, accidental text," he thought. "For 
though it has come down to us in this form, the form 
was, we would have to say, arbitrarily fixed, and errors in 
the typography have been canonized and studied. 

"On the one hand, could we not extrapolate truth 



THE OLD RELIGION 165 

from an error? Gregor Mendel did. And, on the other 
hand, might we not be as likely to arrive at nonsense, and, 
aha, are these two cases not in fact equally likely out- 
comes of the study of Scripture? 

"Having arrived at that, how have I spent my morn- 
ing? 

"Might we not study any text? And where would that 
lead us?" 

He signed. He swung his legs down to the floor and 
looked at the floor, and then up at the bars. Cast into the 
bars was the manufacturers mark: "Ginnett and Hub- 
bard. Penal Engineering. Booth, Ohio." 
"Let us, then," he thought, "lay this out upon a grid." 

He counted the letters and found forty-two. 

"If we add in the punctuation marks, we arrive at 
fifty, which is five by ten, and may be arrayed thus: 

GINET NALXE 

TXAND NGINE 

HUBBA ERSBO 

RDXPE OTHXX 

H I X 

The word NALXE presented itself to him. Turning 
the first block through ninety degrees, he saw the word 
AGROO in the second square, and his mind caught upon 
the phrase "The letters of the First Square suggest them- 
selves to me as more probably containing reason than 



166 DAVID MAMET 



those of the Second Square. But perhaps this is a trick 
played on me by the inevitable connotation of hierarchy 
in the terms 'first' and 'second' square." He studied the 
squares, and rotated them to form diamonds, yielding: 



G 

T I 

H X N 

R U A E 

D B N T 

X B D 

P E 

A 

and: 

N 

N A 

E G L 

R R I X 

X A S N E 

ONX LE 

X A D 





And he realized he had come to suppose and expect 
that the squares would resolve themselves, and that even 
this consciousness would not dispel a conviction that 
they would do so. 



THE OLD RELIGION 167 
G 

T X X N I 

R U A E 

D B N T 

X B D 

P E 

E 

He began to translate. 

"God, the (thy?) — xnn, ruae — Dobent? Dabent? . . ." 

It would require work and, obviously, dedication, but 
given both, meaning would, he was sure, be found. 

"But why," said the voice of reason, or, as he thought 
of it, "a detractor," "would a message be impressed into 
the bars of a cell?" 

"There are two reasons," he thought. 

"One: It seems that any science is the attempt to 
wrest meaning from the superficially random. All great 
advances in the fields of . . . ," he thought, "medicine, 
chemistry, and . . ." He was reluctant to include physics, 
as he was unsure of precisely in what it consisted. 
"Surely, physics, though, whatever it contains, must ad- 
vance through the connection of previously unconnected 
facts, else what is the good of an equation? 

"Most of human thought, in fact," he thought, "is 
the attempt to find a hidden meaning. My second asser- 
tion is this: If the meaning does not exist, then there is 
meaning in our attempts to create it." 



168 DAVID MAMET 

"This assertion on my part is either very wise or 
foolish," he thought. "What of a grain of sand? And 
what fool would be fool enough to study it? And yet. 
And yet . . . And yet there exists such things as crystals, 
and many have learned from them. 

"Now: four men went into the garden, we are told — 
Azai, Ben Zoma, Aher, and Rabbi Akiba. One became 
mad, one took his own life, one became a heretic, and 
one, Akiba, went on to glory as a Teacher of the Soul. 
Now: Could that very garden be contained in these 
squares? Why not? 

"Or else, in what did it consist, save in the arbitrary 
arrangement of matter which they believed would hold a 
secret. 

"Will I say that these men, Hubbard and Ginnett, 
were put on the earth to place their names upon that bar 
to instruct me? No. I will not. Will I say I was not put 
upon the earth to find a meaning in their names? I can- 
not discount it. For is that not the enterprise in which I 
find myself? And, if it's ludicrous, how much more so is 
my incarceration for a crime simple right reason knows 
me innocent of having done? And if I may assume that it 
is not ridiculous to state that there may be reason in the 
words on the bars, then may I not extrapolate that it is 
not beyond the realm of reason to assume that those men 
had been put upon earth in part to furnish the material of 
my investigations? 

"Now, I know that to be false, for I cannot fix myself 



THE OLD RELIGION 169 



as the center of a universe which, aeons ago, gave rise not 
only to the alphabet but to my disposition to reorder it 
in equilateral components. There is nothing in that — I 
cannot go that far. 

"But now I am lost, and to what must I cling in order 
to both navigate through and gain instruction in the 
Garden? 

"What if I were to look once again at the names in 
the bars, and to discover that I had misread them? 

"What if it pleased God to keep me in this cell for 
sixty years, and I employed the time to create a cosmol- 
ogy based on the meaning in those words, and after that 
time I looked once again and found I had mistranscribed 
them, and all of my elaborations were based upon 
error — would not that error have meaning? And if so, 
meaning sufficient to justify my — we must say — mis- 
guided efforts? 

"And if the error were not misguided, of what use the 
original words upon the bars? And if they have no worth, 
why do I find myself studying them? 

"Is it, then, the exercise of my capacity that pleases 
me, and the notion that it has significance merely the 
goad to that pleasure? 

"Perhaps it is our gift to reason merely to the extent 
which would outwit the beasts of the field, and any fur- 
ther or greater employ or elaboration of that gift must 
lead to evil. 

"And then, perhaps, it is the purpose of what we have 



170 DAVID MAMET 



come to call 'pursuit of knowledge' to countervail the ex- 
ercise of that evil propensity. Could that be the case? 
And then, perhaps, it is the meaning of 'knowledge,' 'to 
do no evil,' and that is why it pleases. 

"For how can we posit an ultimate Good, or own an 
Improvement, as we know we are both bound to die and 
likely to inflict misery during our life? 

"But surely there are medical advances which have 
lessened pain and lengthened our lives. 

"But again, perhaps, if we would follow out thoughts 
to the end, it is a greater good to pass quickly and be 
done with it. Can we say that without demeaning that 
force which gave us our life? 

"Would it be better if those two deluded men, Gin- 
nett and Hubbard, who divert themselves in what they 
choose to style 'Penal Engineering' — would it be better if 
they had not lived? If they had not lived, I would not be 
drawn to this line of reasoning. Has this reasoning made 
me better, or worse? 

"Better or worse for what? 

"To what end? 

"Beth~Lechem," he said. "House of bread. The bread- 
house. Certainly the home of a baker. Elizabeth, God-is- 
my-pact. Daniel, God-is-my-judge. Bethel, the house of 
God. Salem, Peace. He looked at the Hebrew primer in his 
hand. 

"'Who rises refreshed from his prayers, his prayers 
have been answered.' " 



Palestine 



Palestine, then, was a dream. 

Not peopled by Turks — who- and whatever they 
might be — but as in the days of the Bible, when tribes of 
white people, just like oneself — Westerners, in fact, he 
thought — roamed through a desert which might seem to 
us inhospitable, but which they found a comfortable 
home. The desert was home to them. Hot, but dry, dur- 
ing the day, cold at night, granted, but was not the one a 
welcome respite from the other? And could one, did one, 
not experience it as a comfort, wrapped in the rugs and 
hides, so warm, so light for transport, which made it 
home? 

What did one need, finally, but the few things one 
could carry? 



172 DAVID MAMET 

"I am of a wandering race," he said. "The world is 
my home." 

Had not the Rabbi taught him, "Arami Avodi Avi . . ."? 
"My Father," as the creed had it, "was a wandering Ara- 
maean, who went down, with just a few, to Egypt, and, 
there, became a Nation." 

Each time Frank thought of this passage, he felt con- 
flict. 

He loved what was the first instance of his ability to 
appreciate Hebrew poetry, in the alliteration of the first 
three words, but he felt shame, as the word "Aramaean" 
conjured to him the image of a blond, a non-"Jewish," 
finally, a Christian man — as if it were the purpose of the 
creed to claim as he thought, more distinguished, or, 
more to the point, less "maculate" heritage. 

"No. They'd have to be dark," he thought, "for the 
sun was hot. To be light would be to be maladapted. 
What could that avail? Nothing," he thought. "And my 
brief notion of life lived in the open must confirm the 
simple truth that it is better to be correctly adapted than 
to be in fashion. Whom would see you there? And what 
is it but idolatry to crave fashionable appearance in the 
wilds; where not only is there no mirror but, yes," he 
thought, "in the desert, and distinguished from 'the 
woods,' there is not even that stream or that accidental 
pond which would allow one to gauge one's reflection." 

At this, he became frightened. 



THE OLD RELIGION 173 

"Would that be, then," he thought, "as if one did not 
exist? 

"And what might that mean?" 

He pictured an unhappy, discorporeal existence, 
which, in his mind, meant nothing but anomie, an exis- 
tence consisting in nothing but panic, with no external 
manifestation of what might, for want of a better word, 
be called the world; and, at once, the complementary 
'happy' component of 'not to exist,' which was a free- 
flowing animal consciousness of joy in oneself and one's 
surroundings. 

So he mused, picturing the desert. In his dream, it 
was a happy woods, on a low and rolling ground — much 
like the grounds at the Grand Hotel in North Carolina, 
where he and his wife's family stayed summers. 

"That was the desert to him — a state of perfect bal- 
ance, where he was neither hot nor cold, hungry nor full. 

"But not a state of peace," he thought. "One of 
'equilibrium.' 

"But the sun would start to go down, then where 
would I be? I would gravitate to my camp — to my Desert 
Camp — where there would be a tent in the woods. This 
tent would be laid inside with fine Turkey carpets. There 
would be a fire. Within, a small ring of rocks, and a brass 
tripod over it, and a young girl cooking for me and the 
smell of coffee. 

"She would look up to me as I entered, her eyes soft 



174 DAVID MAMET 



with submission, her eyes grave with love. A woman of 
my tribe.' Yes," he thought. "Yes, I can allow myself to 
revel in that phrase. Who is to stop me? 'A woman of my 
tribe.' But," he thought, "she would not have a hooked 
nose." 



The lights went out. He was alone in the dark, with the 
smell of sweat and filthy men's bodies. At intervals, the 
wind would shift for a moment, and bring him a breath 
of the fields. 

"I suppose that this filth is just another form of fe- 
cundity," he thought, "but I can't think so. 

"Soon I'll be asleep. Perhaps the Christians are right, 
and we should take all we have and give it to the poor. If 
they would, I would." 



H 



is vision 



"The question," the Rabbi observed, "may be asked in a 
different way." 

Looking back, one could always devise or imagine 
warnings or signs; but, as they had been unheeded (if, in 
fact, they ever occurred), of what good had they been? 
What could they do save comfort one after the fact with 
assurances of omnipotence? 

"That is it," he said. "We can both suffer and mourn, 
'How was I to know?' and, at once, celebrate our omni- 
science: 'I had a sign. Which I did not heed.' 

"The argument is, of course, useless. For if there 
were a sign, why did you not heed — and, if you did not 
heed, was it a sign? 

"What can we not find in our memory to serve our 



176 DAVID MAMET 

vision of ourselves? But we can use this instance to con- 
front idolatry." 

The Rabbi bobbed his head, and he moved closer to 
the table, and he frowned across the table at Frank and 
continued. 

"The essence, you see," he said, "is a belief in our own 
power. For if we believe in it at all — in our power to over- 
come what we might call 'chance' — if we are unable to 
understand our powerlessness, our mortality, then we de- 
nominate ourselves God. 

"If we are God, what can we not do? We are permit- 
ted all. 

"Our difficulty lies in accommodating our weakness, 
eh?, into the theory. Our weakness, which we see each day 
and in each aspect of our day — our difficulty lies in ac- 
commodating this knowledge with the belief that we are, in 
effect, God. 

"And, so we say, 'I knew that it was going to rain 
today I should have taken my umbrella!' 

"Well, then, finally, why didn't you? 

"Why didn't the man, who proclaims not only that 
he had the choice but that the choice was superfluous, as 
he possessed — beyond the power to choose — possessed 
Perfect Knowledge? 

"Why didn't you take the umbrella? He did not, do 
you see, as he did not know that it would rain. 

" 'Ah', but you say, 'an observant man, eh? Perhaps a 



THE OLD RELIGION 177 

farmer, a man who understood . . .'" The Rabbi 
shrugged. "Uh . . . 'The sky, the weather . . . surely he may 
have known it would rain.' 

"Then why didn't he take his umbrella?" 

He looked at Frank, as to say, "I am a man without 
guile, without defenses. And at the moment I stand be- 
fore you unarmed. Resting solely on the proposition: Do 
with me as you will." 

"Do you see? Which is true? 'Ah,' but you say, 'per- 
haps there were countervailing motives.' Yes. When are 
there not? 

"The man looked at the sky. He perceived it might 
rain. He chose not to encumber himself. 

"Or, who can say, the umbrella had been put away. 
And he was rushed. And unsure of its location. Or per- 
haps he felt it shabby, and his duties of the day . . . You see 
my point?" The Rabbi said, "Or, or, perhaps, it was too 
fine, of too fine . . ." He searched for the word. "... a 
manufacture. And, similarly, that it would be inappropriate 
to carry it among the people he would see that day. 

"Perhaps he wanted to wrong himself?' 

He cast his arms up, to say, "Are we not mature men, 
and should we shrink at these things?" 

"Perhaps he'd had a fight; and, thinking it would rain, 
looked forward to the very utterance 'I have seen the bet- 
ter path, but I take the worse,' and wished to inflict pain 
through the . . . the objectijuation of his self-hatred. 



178 DAVID MAMET 

"And perhaps none of these is true, and he'd only 
wished, truly, to've had power over forces powerful over 
him. 

"Who is to say? 

"It remains: If he had had the choice, why did he not 
exercise it? 

"If he'd not had the choice, why did he make the as- 
sertion? 

"The human mind is fashioned to compare." He paused. 

He sighed, and took a package of cigarettes from the 
lapel pocket of his coat, he offered one to Frank, who 
nodded and took it. 

The Rabbi took one, and drew a kitchen match out 
of his pocket. He put his hands on the table, the match 
sticking up between the fingers of his right hand. He 
looked down at the crumpled pack of cigarettes lying be- 
tween Frank and himself. 

Frank glanced at him. "How can those," he thought, 
"who are not Jews understand Jews?" 

The prison library smelled of old paper. The scent 
of hot pine came in the window, as if a sheet, drying in 
the wind, had billowed, and let the air pass. The Rabbi 
let the match fall onto the table. He took it and scratched 
it underneath the tables lip, and he lit both their ciga- 
rettes. 

"You say that you had a 'vision on that day. A Vision 
that you should not have gone to the office. 



THE OLD RELIGION 179 

"Well, then, perhaps," he said, "you should not have 
gone." 

He shrugged. 

" 'What is a dream? What is a vision? What is real?' 
These are, perhaps, questions for the secular mind. Do 
you see? For when you come to know all that is real, what 
then? 

"First, whom would you tell? And, then, would you 
be happier? And, finally, is such knowledge necessary to 
serve God? 

"Torture yourself if you will. The fact is, you did go 
into the office. The question may be asked, not, 'Was it 
my imagination,' but, 'Of what is my imagination a prod- 
uct?' " 



The library 



But perhaps there was such a thing as the goddess Neme- 
sis. 

And could it be that one was punished not for hav- 
ing more, but for an awareness of it? 

Was he meant to act, then, like a Christian disciple, 
and give all he had to the poor? 

The Christians themselves didn't act that way, and 
they were enjoined to. How much less appropriate, then, 
for a Jew? And, as he had not been so directed, why was 
he being punished? 

For the voice said, "You have too much." 

And were there not many, many more prominent 
than he, richer than he? More rich? "Hell," he thought, 
"more rich. I was not rich at all. Am I to be persecuted 
because I am not starving? I didn't set the wages, nor the 



THE OLD RELIGION 181 



hours, and there are places within ten blocks of the fac- 
tory where the girls are treated (ax, jar worse. . . ." 

"No, the day did not drag," he wrote to his wife, and, 
"Yes, there is a satisfaction in the order of the day. I am 
sure that the Appeal will prevail, and I do not write that 
merely out of form, nor from false hope, nor out of be- 
lief in some eventual triumph of goodness or reason, or 
of balance in Human Affairs — though such might exist, 
in fact, and I don't discount that possibility, neither em- 
bracing it, as I say, naively. 

"No. I believe the Appeal will prevail, as I hold that 
there is a rhythm, if you will, in human intercourse, 
which one can see in politics, in business, or in any inter- 
action. I see that one violent moment gives rise to its op- 
posite, as a wave dashing on a rock, or as a sudden surge, 
out of all reason, in the price of a stock; or in the adop- 
tion of a style in dress. 

"Violence must engender its opposite. And the rush 
to conclusion, absent any fact (in our case), must, given 
time, cause, if not an equal, a substantial outpouring 
of — I may say — equally unthought-out sympathy (of 
course I will be happy to enjoy it). 

"I feel it as one feels a change in the barometer; ab- 
sent all other signs. We sense the shift in human affairs 
with an animal sense; and I know it will be so here. 

"Already I see it in the attitude of my jailers, and, 
more significantly, in that of my fellow inmates, who, 
little by little, but perceptibly, cease to look on me with 



182 DAVID MA MET 



that unconquerable loathing of prejudice, and com- 
mence to see me as a man. 

"Perhaps I imagine it; but, no, I do not. Just yesterday 
a fellow told a joke, and, as I meant to move away — not 
to seem to wish, uninvited, to presume to be part of the 
group to which he intended speaking — he gestured (in 
the minutest way, but there was that communication 
nonetheless) that I was to stay. 

"Which I did. Gratefully. For these are not small 
acts. They are, to the contrary, that by which our history 
is woven. 

"Which brings me back to the issue of Jim; and an 
incident which transpired a year ago. Perhaps more. Say, 
a year ago, when he was leaving work, and I joked ... (It 
was a Saturday: Is that ironic? No? Is it significant? No. 
Probably not, but how could I, at that point, fail to re- 
mark it? I could not, I don't think.) 

"I joked that he seemed in quite a hurry to be 
gone — as I would have joked with any employee, I think. 
For who would not be glad to be off? Anyone on Satur- 
day. I accept it and avow their right. For why should they 
stay one moment longer than those for which they had 
contracted? And I have ... I will not say 'searched my 
soul,' but 'considered' it, and do not feel at all that I im- 
plied anything in the least recriminatory, although it may 
have been the very license of financial authority which 
made my joking onerous. 

"In any case, I joked that he must have had a full 



THE OLD RELIGION 183 



night planned; and I saw his eyes narrow, and perceived 
that he thought I had intended it in a suggestive way, 
which, before God, I did not, and I saw that he resented 
it 'full sore'; as if my position permitted me pleasantry 
which, had he employed it, might result in penalty — per- 
haps in a severe penalty — to him. And I allow that, and 
would not, for the world, have offended him — but I saw 
that he was angered and that hed remember it. 

"A man wrote that we should be slow to hire and 
quick to fire — that if we saw an employee would be 
trouble at some point, wed better discharge them 
then and there, paying whatever was necessary to the 
end of whatever contracted term, but get them removed 
from the premises before their attitude . . . (And, of 
course, our attitude toward them — for who could func- 
tion with suspicion? Suspicion is the heaviest weight — 
that cumbersome anxiety, 'Will they be obstreperous?' and 
so on) . . . that we should remove them immediately, 
as the cheapest course. For if we see or suspect that 
they might cause trouble, that suspicion constitutes trou- 
ble in itself, which cannot be borne in a well-regulated 
business. 

"When I saw his eyes, I felt, frankly, I had wronged 
him. Though I did not intend to; and although I regretted it. 
But one of us — well, no, I will not be facetious, I will not 
say, 'One of us would have to leave.' 

"He should have gone. I should have dismissed him. 
And I think, perhaps that I kept him on out of a feeling 



184 DAVID MAMET 



of obligation, as I had subjected him, as I saw that he felt, 
to ridicule. 

"The Rabbi reminds me that we do not believe in 
false gods, nor in prophecy. And this comforts me, for I 
am disposed to wonder at the power of the 'goddess 
Nemesis.' 

"As I said. But sober reflection, in light of the Rabbi's 
words, reminds me that she is nothing but an elaboration 
of my human feeling that if I had acted differently, all 
would be well. 

"And I know that nothing I have done has brought 
on this occurrence — that I am not sufficiently powerful, 
nor is my happiness or lack of it of sufficient moment to 
the world, to engender this chain of events. To think so 
is to aggrandize my importance. I see that it is Idolatry. 

"My disposition, in spite of that knowledge, to the 
idea of Nemesis is not magical; nor is it indication that 
she does, in fact, exist. It is, I know, a simple human urge 
to accept the attractive lie and call the power of its at- 
traction Truth." 

He nodded to aTrusty shelving books on the far wall. 

He laid the pen down on the wooden writing board. 
The board was scoured by years of use. "So smooth," he 
thought. "And how could it become smooth other than 
through use? It could not." 

As he mused, the man to whom he'd nodded left the 
shelves and walked behind him drew a knife from his 
shirt, grabbed Frank's chin from behind, and cut his throat. 



The hospital 



Beyond the window there was fairyland. He tried, but he 
could not dispel the illusion. It brought him back to his 
youth; beyond youth, to an infancy. He looked and 
thought, "This will pass quickly, and I will be touched at 
the quaintness of my thoughts," but it did not pass. 

He stood looking and thought, "And I cannot even 
call myself 'fixed,' or 'mesmerized,' but I do not want to 
move." 

The light was blue grey, and the moonlight shadows 
were grey brown. 

"It is so bright," he thought, "that, as they say, I 
could read a newspaper by it." He tried to think of a 
print so small as to thwart the moonlight, but he found 
the thought too mechanical to grace the scene, and left it 
unfinished in respect. 



186 DAVID MAMET 

The view was soft. The shapes were soft. 

"There is nothing in the world," he thought, "equal 
to this." 

He tried to imagine animals as shapes moving in the 
blue light, but he could not. "It is empty," he thought, 
"of everything but spirit." 

Now, in his cell, he recurred to that night by the lake. 

"How perfect it was," he thought, and, "What were 
my worries? What sick folly would have caused me a mo- 
ment's unrest then? Could I but recapture that time . . ." 

And yet he told himself that could he return, he 
would, in days, in months, certainly, resume his previous 
ways — return as he put it, "to myself" 

There was the ripped pain in his throat. He could 
still feel the knife where the man had cut him. He re- 
membered, with a strange shame, thinking, "Why, it isn't 
even sharp." 

He felt the itching which meant that the wound was 
healing. He remembered the sick, rank sweat in the man's 
coveralls when the man straddled him and grabbed his 
hair back to expose the neck and cut his throat, and the 
look in his eyes of calm happiness as he cut his throat. 

"What is more lovely than belonging?" he thought. 
Nothing." 

"Once a month the moon is full and stays full for 
how many days, and then ebbs to nothing. And at every 
stage it can be beautiful or stark, or it can fill us with 
dread — there is no saying what concatenation of circum- 



THE OLD RELIGION 187 



stances might produce what effect. The man who tried to 
kill me looked as if he could have been participating at 
his daughter's wedding, or at the confirmation of a child. 
Or the receipt of some reward. 

"Does perfect innocence exist? What good is it if 
these crimes are committed in striving to return to it? 
Should we not simply repudiate it? 

Should we not simply avow we cannot return? 

"For if we are lured to return to innocence through 
sin, should we not say, 'I am incapable of distinguishing 
it, so I will renounce it'? 

"Or he could have been a child going to sleep; or on 
the edge of a perception, when he raised the knife. He 
held it with the blade extending back, out of the little- 
finger side of the hand, and back almost parallel to the 
forearm. 

"Who would know to hold a knife like that when 
you did a murder? Where would one learn that? Who 
would teach that?" 

He smelled the carbolic, and the iodine, soaking the 
bandages on his neck. He turned his head to the side and 
saw the white-painted metal of the hospital bed, and, 
below the paint, the iron. 

"White-into-black, and black-to-grey," he thought. 

"The paint, and the chipped margin, are not various. 
But the iron is. That is because it is not man-made; for, 
try as we might . . ." 

The moonlight made its usual flat and long shadows 



188 DAVID MAMET 



on the infirmary wall. "As they are moved to the right, it 
is turned morning," he thought. "And today will be hot. 
All of these people have been told by their God that it is 
a praiseworthy act to want me dead. Am I in a dream?" 

The panic rose in him. It was checked by the 
thought: "It was the stock quotation — that was the print 
so small it would have been difficult to read by moon- 
light," and then he surrendered into madness for a while. 



Th 



e scar 



His throat healed with a speed which surprised him. 

Under any circumstance, he thought, I would have 
been pleased with my resiliency, but coming as it did, 
however, in the midst . . . Well, he thought, I was meant 
to live, in this instance, and that is the truth of it. Had I 
been meant to die I would have died. And spring, no 
doubt, and summer have much to do with the process, for 
is it not true that the sap, that the emotive instinct, that 
the urge to mate, that everything, in short, is quickened 
in the spring; and why should we think ourselves exempt? 

His scar itched with a force he'd described to himself 
as intolerable until he reflected he could tolerate it, and 
that it signaled his life — that he still lived, and that he 
was healing. 



190 DAVID MA MET 

We wish for philosophy, he thought. It will not 
come, and when it conies, no doubt, we reflect it cost us 
too dear. 

Or I could be miserable, he thought, and lie here re- 
flecting on my misery — which is an equally supportable 
position. 

As an exercise, he began to enumerate and to attempt 
to embrace his troubles. 

By which it will be seen, he thought, if my content 
(he would not dare to think of it as happiness) is the ac- 
cident of a momentary amnesia of my plight, or . . . 

He listed his troubles to himself, feeling foolish, 
both for squandering a moment's peace and as their bulk 
was, to him, almost comic. 

For who could credit it, he thought, a man who lately 
fretted over . . . ? He searched for a triviality from his late 
life with which to taunt himself. 

And I know, he thought, that that mechanism to dis- 
pel my rage is close at hand, and it is this: 

Perhaps I was the murderer. 

With this thought, his play was ended, and he fell 
from philosophy to depression so swiftly as to erase the 
memory of his investigation. 

Nothing remained but rage and fury. 

Perhaps I killed her. What was to have stopped me? 
Nothing at all. Who was to know? I could have killed 
her, and no one the wiser. And I had the opportunity, 



THE OLD RELIGION 191 

and the motive, as they say, if I am that beast, if I am that 
invert, and would I not be, if I had killed her? 

Then the one event, if I had misremembered it, 
could make it right. If I had killed her, if I could avow 
the fact, then it would all come right. I would be saved. 
And that is what the Rabbi meant when he talked of the 
Christian Oudook. 

Then I would be saved. 

How would that be? How would that alter one, if I 
walked down the street a member of that Community? If 
I confessed? 

. . . but, again, how could that be, if I had killed the 
girl, he wondered, how could it be that a man would 
merit his neighbors love more as a murderer than as a 
Jew? 

In the transition to sleep, he balanced the two oppo- 
sites. 

Is there a rendition of events in which I am not a 
murderer? Is there a version in which I am not a Jew? And 
how can it be that I do not seem able to shed that iden- 
tity? 

Perhaps they're right, and it is a "blood guilt" — 
whatever that may be. And they claim they can make 
atonement for their sin by some "confession of faith"; but 
I cannot; for if I embraced them, they would not em- 
brace me, however far I would go. Though their savior was 
a Jew . . . and if I were to see before me . . . He pictured 



192 DAVID MAMET 

himself in robe and sandals, in a desert scene, on a hill, 
preaching. 

... to see before me those who were troubled, those 
who were confused, those who . . . those who were . . . 

The breeze smelled to him of dates, of "sand," of 
the East. 

He closed his eyes and saw a deep burnt orange — the 
color, he thought, of peace. 

Each breath was a joy. He could feel it descend to his 
belly. It thrilled him. In his nostrils, in his throat. 

He woke coughing blood, and rolled on his side, 
groaning. 

The blood trickled from his mouth onto the sheet 
and pooled on the sheet. 

He nodded, slowly, in a colloquy with himself, as if 
to say, "Yes. That's true; yes, I know that's true." 



The ride 



They took him by force from the prison hospital. Twelve 
men in three cars. They made him lie on the floor of the 
first sedan, a bag over his head, and drove through this 
town and that for the better part of the night. 

They talked curtly, and in abbreviated phrases, of 
their object and their destination, and then the time 
would pass, and they would lapse, forgetful, into a nor- 
mal speech, and revert to their everyday subjects — the 
crops, or town life, or such — until one or the other 
would remind the group of their errand. 

Well past dawn, they stopped and took him from 
the car. 

They took the bag from his head and showed him 
the tree, and he nodded at the sizable crowd which had 



194 DAVID MAMET 



gathered, and which answered his question as to whether 
the drive was a planned or an improvised event. 

They moved to re-cover his head, and he asked them 
to stop, and removed his wedding ring. He asked that it 
be returned to his wife. 

One of the men stretched out his hand in a noncom- 
mittal way, and Frank gave him the ring. 

They covered his head, and they ripped his pants off 
and castrated him and hung him from the tree. 

A photographer took a picture showing the mob, one 
boy grinning at the camera, the body hanging, the legs 
covered by a blanket tied around the waist. 

The photo, reproduced as a postcard, was sold for 
many years in stores throughout the South. 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 
The Jew Accused 
by Albert S. Lindemann 
The Leo Frank Case 
by Leonard Dinnerstein 
A Little Girl Is Dead 
by Harry Golden 
With thanks for 
the kind assistance 
and encouragement 
of Anita Landa